This section explains the benefits and risks of complementary therapies commonly used in pregnancy and childbirth. References to research studies and authoritative texts are included.
Complementary therapies and natural remedies can be relaxing during pregnancy and aid progress during labour
It's estimated that around 80% of expectant mums use natural remedies during pregnancy and birth. Aromatherapy oils, herbal remedies such as raspberry leaf tea and homeopathic arnica for bruising are particularly popular. You may have used complementary therapies before becoming pregnant or you might decide to visit a private therapist in pregnancy, perhaps for help with specific discomforts such as backache or sickness, or just simply for some "me time". However, it's important to make sure any natural remedies used at this time are safe for you and your baby, especially if you have any medical or pregnancy complications.
Research suggests that therapies such as massage, aromatherapy and reflexology in pregnancy help you to cope better in labour. Hypnosis-style relaxation (the deep relaxation technique, "hypno-birthing") is popular for preparing for the birth. Acupuncture, reflexology or massage can help your labour to progress normally, so it's less likely you'll need drugs to start or speed up contractions, or to have a Caesarean. If you're relaxed in labour, the stress hormones are reduced so that the birth hormone, oxytocin, can help your body to work more efficiently.
Many midwives train with Expectancy and some maternity units offer services including labour aromatherapy, moxibustion to turn breech babies, or natural induction for women who are overdue. Expectancy is committed to training midwives to use complementary therapies safely. All those who train with Expectancy follow a Professional Code of Practice to ensure the highest quality of care and safe practice. Our Licensed Consultants are midwives who have trained in complementary therapies and offer private services for expectant and new mums - see our Find a Practitioner page at http://expectancy.co.uk/practitioner
Acupuncture is a Chinese therapy, increasingly used in pregnancy and labour
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese technique based on the principle of internal energy channels linking one part of the body to another. When you're completely healthy your internal energy, or life force, (called "chi") flows round your body without any interruptions but sometimes the energy can become blocked or too strong or too weak at certain points. Fine disposable needles are inserted into these points by the acupuncturist to re-balance your internal energy, helping to restore and maintain a normal healthy balance. Sometimes, instead of inserting needles, the practitioner will use finger and thumb pressure to stimulate the acupuncture points (acupressure).
It can be useful to consult an acupuncturist if you have difficulty in conceiving. In pregnancy, acupuncture is helpful for sickness, back and pelvic pain, heartburn and many other aches and pains. Research suggests acupuncture increases your body's "feel good" chemicals, so it can also be quite relaxing (despite the needles!) and may make you feel less stressed or tired. During labour, acupuncture is very effective for pain relief, as well as stimulating contractions when they have slowed down.
See http://expectancy.co.uk/practitioner to find an Expectancy-trained acupuncture-midwife near you.
Are complementary therapies safe in pregnancy and childbirth?
Many expectant mums ask if it is safe to receive complementary therapies or to take natural remedies. Complementary therapies can be very relaxing and help to ease the discomforts of pregnancy and there is an increasing amount of research being done to demonstrate their effectiveness.
However, natural remedies should be used with extreme care in pregnancy, birth and while breast feeding. It may be wise to avoid them altogether unless prescribed by a qualified practitioner. This includes aromatherapy oils and herbal remedies such as ginger and raspberry leaf tea. All aromatherapy oils and herbal medicines which you take by mouth act in exactly the same way as drugs. . Do not assume that they are always safe: if something has the power to do good, it can also potentially be harmful when not used appropriately.
My advice is to be very cautious about injudicious use of natural remedies and complementary therapies when you are planning a pregnancy, are pregnant, in labour or breast feeding. NO natural remedies should be taken routinely. Take advice from qualified professionals before using any oils, herbs or homeopathic remedies.
It is essential to find a practitioner who is appropriately trained, insured and experienced in treating pregnant and birthing women. See http://expectancy.co.uk/practitioner to find Expectancy-trained midwives who offer private complementary therapies.
Aromatherapy involves the use of concentrated plant oils containing chemicals which have both physical and emotional effects.
In aromatherapy, highly concentrated plant oils are blended together and administered as a massage, in the bath or by vaporisation. The oils contain hundreds of chemicals which give them a range of therapeutic properties and which can have both physical and emotional effects.
Massage is the most popular aromatherapy treatment. The oils are absorbed from the skin and pass into your bloodstream. When you smell the aromas the chemicals also pass into your lungs and from there into your bloodstream. In addition, breathing in the aromas sends chemicals via your smell system to the mood system in your brain, affecting how you feel emotionally. Once inside your body the chemicals work in exactly the same way as drugs. All plant essential oils also cross the placenta to your baby so it is vital to use only small amounts of those oils known to be safe enough in pregnancy or birth. There are many oils which should not be used at all if you're trying to conceive, or are pregnant. Some oils should not be used until you are in labour.
It's wise to avoid using aromatherapy oils in early pregnancy unless you consult a qualified aromatherapist who's trained and insured to use the oils at this time. However, regular aromatherapy treatments towards the end of pregnancy can have a positive effect on your labour - because you're less stressed, you feel less pain and your body works more efficiently so your labour progresses normally.
Expectancy's Educational Director, Denise Tiran, author of Aromatherapy in Midwifery Practice, has trained over 2000 midwives to provide aromatherapy during labour, both in the UK and overseas.
For our information leaflet on aromatherapy, see http://expectancy.co.uk/shop
To find an Expectancy-trained midwife who offers private pregnancy aromatherapy, see http://expectancy.co.uk/practitioner
To purchase Denise's book see
Bach flower remedies are thought to balance emotional and psychological wellbeing and can safely be used by most expectant mums
Bach flower remedies are liquid plant remedies which are thought to balance your emotions. Dr Edward Bach was a physician in the early 20th century who realised that our emotions can have an impact on our physical health. He researched various plants and found that, when developed in a specific way, they appeared to work energetically, in a way similar to homeopathy (rather than chemically, as drugs do). We still don't fully understand how Bach remedies work but they are generally thought to be safe to use in pregnancy. However, as they are preserved in brandy, they should be avoided by anyone with an alcohol-related problem or liver disorder.
Rescue remedy, a combination of five of the 38 remedies, is the most popular remedy, and is particularly good as an anti-stress remedy. You might find it helpful if you are anxious about having blood taken during your pregnancy. In labour, as you approach the second stage you may feel very stressed and Rescue remedy can help you through the last part until it is time to birth your baby.
Other remedies help with other emotions and can be helpful in pregnancy, labour and after the birth of your baby. For example, olive or hornbeam can help if you feel especially tired; mimulus may ease fear of labour; crab apple may relieve feelings of "uncleanliness" if you have stitches; and walnut may assist you in adapting to your changing role in life.
However, if you are undergoing any form of counselling or if you have any mental health problems, it is wise not to take Bach remedies unless you can consult a qualified practitioner who can help you to select the most appropriate remedies.
For more information on Bach flower remedies see https://www.bachcentre.com/centre/remedies.htm
If you'd like to have complementary therapies during your pregnancy or the birth of your baby, it's important to find the right therapist for you
If you want to have complementary therapy treatment during pregnancy it's important to find a therapist who is well-trained, qualified and insured to work with pregnant mums, and registered with one of the therapy regulating organisations. Osteopathy and chiropractic are regulated by law but there is no legal requirement for other therapists to be registered - technically anyone can call themselves a "therapist" without any training. The Federation of Holistic Therapists, Federation of Antenatal Educators, Association of Reflexologists and International Federation of Aromatherapists will provide lists of suitably-trained practitioners. Acupuncturists are normally registered with the British Acupuncture Council, herbalists with the National Institute of Medical Herbalists and homeopaths with either the British Homeopathic Association or the Society of Homeopaths.
Don't rely on the Internet, local paper or Yellow Pages to find the best therapists, and don't just walk into the nearest beauty salon for help with specific pregnancy problems. Word of mouth is by far the best way to find local practitioners, or you could ask your midwife, doctor or health visitor. Ask about the therapist's qualifications, training and experience in maternity work. Don't be afraid to ask to see their certificates, and if you're not sure, walk away and find someone else. The therapist should check your medical history and how your pregnancy is progressing, ask for your consent to treat you and keep notes on the treatments provided. All therapists working with pregnant mums and newborn babies should have indemnity insurance cover specific to maternity work and have clearance from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS, formerly CRB).
Herbal (plant) medicines contain chemicals which work in exactly the same way as drugs and should be used with extreme caution before and during pregnancy
Plants have been used as medicines for centuries, to maintain health and to treat specific illnesses and in many cultures, traditional remedies continue to be a major part of healthcare. However, herbal remedies work in exactly the same way as drugs, and can lead to serious complications when taken inappropriately. Just because they're “natural” doesn't mean they're always safe, and many herbal remedies should not be taken at all when trying to conceive or in pregnancy, except on the advice of a qualified practitioner.
Guide to using herbal remedies during pregnancy and birth
For our downloadable information leaflet about Raspberry Leaf Tea, see http://expectancy.co.uk/shop
If you have any queries about the safety of herbal medicine see http://expectancy.co.uk/practitioner for Expectancy-trained midwives who can advise you.
Homeopathy is a gentle system of energy-based medicine which treats the whole person
Homeopathy treats the whole person and is based on the principle of “treating like with like”. It doesn't work chemically like drugs, but is a form of physical energy medicine. It's very gentle, but very powerful. Homeopathy can be helpful in pregnancy but it's best to consult a qualified homeopath or midwife trained in homeopathy so that the remedies are prescribed for your specific symptoms.
Arnica is one of the most popular remedies used by new mums to relieve bruising and shock after the birth, especially if you've had stitches - it's best to use the 30C dose. Take just one arnica tablet three times a day for the first three days after the birth and then stop.
How to take homeopathic remedies
Things to avoid when using homeopathic remedies
Certain substances can stop the remedies from working properly, including some strong drugs and aromatic substances. Here is a list of common substances to avoid when you're taking homeopathic remedies.
If you are on medication during pregnancy, particularly pain killers including aspirin, strong antibiotics and blood thinning agents, you should avoid using homeopathic remedies. It is wise to avoid all natural remedies if you have a medical or pregnancy-related problem requiring specialist care and treatment.
If you have any queries about using homeopathy in pregnancy, see http://expectancy.co.uk/practitioner to find an Expectancy-trained midwife who can advise you.
Hypnotherapy is a clinical treatment useful for emotional problems
Clinical hypnotherapy (hypnosis) involves deep physical and mental relaxation with altered consciousness, similar to the state of day dreaming. Verbal “triggers” are used during the hypnosis sessions, enabling your subconscious mind to overcome habits, fears or unwanted aspects of behaviour.
Hypnotherapy can ease sickness in pregnancy, and may be useful if your baby is in the breech position in late pregnancy. It can help you to overcome extreme anxiety about childbirth (tocophobia) or if you have a fear of needles. It is also good for helping you to stop smoking during pregnancy or lose weight after the birth. Practising hypnosis relaxation during pregnancy may result in a shorter, easier labour.
"Hypno-birthing" is not a complementary therapy but is a techniques adapted from hypnosis principles that has become very popular for helping women prepare for labour. There are many different types of "hypno-birthing" and it is important to choose the style that best suits you. Some styles encourage you to respond to a pre-determined set of suggestions, but this is not always helpful, especially if you develop any problems during labour or the birth of your baby.
It is wise to try to find a hynpotherapist who can tailor your hypnosis suggestions to your specific needs. To find an Expectancy-trained midwife who offers private hypnosis for childbirth, see http://expectancy.co.uk/practitioner
Massage can be wonderfully relaxing during your pregnancy, as well as during the birth of your baby
Massage involves the use of therapeutic touch to relax you - both emotionally and physically. Massage can help relieve backache in pregnancy, ease swollen ankles, lower your blood pressure and help to get rid of toxins and waste products from your body.
Research shows that massage can ease pain in labour. We know that touch impulses reach your brain quicker than pain impulses, and massage releases "feel good" chemicals, which act as natural pain killers, also reducing stress hormones.
It would be wonderful to have regular massages during your pregnancy, especially towards the end when you are feeling more tired, heavy and uncomfortable. To find an Expectancy-trained midwife who offers private massage treatments in pregnancy, see http://expectancy.co.uk/practitioner
Moxibustion is a traditional Chinese technique to turn a breech presentation to cephalic
Moxibustion is a traditional Chinese technique used to turn a breech baby to head first. Two specific acupuncture points on the toes are stimulated with heated herb (moxa) sticks near the skin. These points link via energy lines to the uterus, causing slight relaxation in the muscles and encouraging your baby to move around.
The procedure is usually done from about 34 or 35 weeks of pregnancy twice a day, for 15 minutes on both feet, for up to 14 treatments. Research shows that it is about 66% successful - which compares very favourably with external cephalic version (ECV) which the doctor may advise.
If you have any medical or pregnancy problems or if the doctor has told you that ECV in the hospital is not advisable, you should not attempt moxibustion yourself or ask any other practitioner to do it. In particular, if you have had a Caesarean in a previous pregnancy or if you have high blood pressure, moxibustion may cause problems, either for you or your baby.
For our downloadable information leaflet about Moxibustion to turn a breech baby, see http://expectancy.co.uk/shop
To find an Expectancy-trained midwife who offers private moxibustion services see http://expectancy.co.uk/practitioner
Osteopathy and chiropractic focus on the relationship between bones, muscles, joints & ligaments
Osteopathy and chiropractic are similar therapies which work on the principle that your skeleton, and the joints, muscles and ligaments attached to it, comprise the body’s main supporting framework, rather like a scaffolding system. Injury, trauma or disease affect the structure and position of this "scaffolding", putting strain on the whole body.
Treatment involves manipulation of joints, ligaments and bones to restore balance between nerves, muscles and the skeleton. The techniques used differ between osteopathy and chiropractic but generally involve manual manipulation of the body, sometimes combined with massage.
Osteopathy and chiropractic can be effective in treating pregnancy backache, sciatica, pelvic pain, neck pain, headaches and carpal tunnel syndrome (wrist tingling). Other symptoms, not directly related to your skeleton, such as sickness, heartburn and constipation also respond well. In addition, if your baby is breech osteopathy or chiropractice may help to turn your baby: it is especially effective if you also have a history of back or neck problems.
For more information on osteopathy see https://www.osteopathy.org.uk/home/
For more information on chiropractic see https://www.gcc-uk.org/
Reflexology works on numerous pressure points on the feet, thought to represent a map of the whole body
Reflexology is based on the principle that pressure points on your feet represent a map of your whole body. Working on these pressure points relays messages through your body to rebalance and maintain health and wellbeing. Reflexology is not simply a foot massage; it is a powerful therapy which can be effective in treating pregnancy and postnatal discomforts, stimulating contractions, easing labour pain and dealing with retained placenta. Regular reflexology towards the end of pregnancy can be very relaxing and lowers stress hormones, facilitating an easier birth.
There are many different styles of reflexology. Expectancy-trained midwives use reflex zone therapy (RZT), a clinical system based on the anatomical relationships of the body and used by many midwives in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Expectancy's Educational Director, Denise Tiran, author of Reflexology in Pregnancy and Childbirth, has trained many midwives to use RZT. This style of reflexology is more focused on treating specific problems rather than just giving you a relaxing foot treatment.
Just a word here about the use of reflexology to help you get into labour. Childbirth is a normal physiological event and any intervention, even natural techniques like reflexology, may be inappropriate. Applying pressure to certain points on your feet can, indeed, trigger labour contractions and can mean you avoid having to have labour induced in hospital if you go overdue.
To find an Expectancy-trained midwife who uses reflex zone therapy and who can assess whether it is appropriate for you to have labour induced with reflexology, see http://expectancy.co.uk/practitionerer
To purchase Denise Tiran's book see
Reiki is a complementary therapy that aims to restore and maintain an individual's universal life energy
Reiki is a Japanese complementary therapy, which originated in the mid-1800s. It is based on the principle that the body has an energy field which travels throughout the body via pathways called meridians, similar to traditional Chinese medicine and shiatsu.
When you are in optimum health, phsyically, emotionally and spiritually, the energy flows around your body without interruptions, but at certain times in your life, some energy lines or specific points can become blocked, weakening the energy.
Treatments aim to restore and maintain your universal life energy by unblocking and stimulating the energy. It encompass hands-on massage, non-touch techniques and visualisation. Reiki is thought to reduce stress, stimulate the immune system and relieve pain and discomfort. It is a gentle and safe technique, and has been used successfully by nurses, doctors, physiotherapists and midwives, particularly in the USA where it is known as Therapeutic Touch.
Shiatsu is a modern Japanese therapy similar to ancient Chinese acupressure
Shiatsu is a modern Japanese therapy similar to ancient Chinese acupressure. The term "shiatsu" comes from a Japanese word meaning "finger pressure". Shiatsu incorporates simple thumb, finger and elbow pressure applied over various points on the body, combined with holding techniques and gentle stretching exercises. This pressure is applied along the meridians (energy lines which connect one part of the body to the others) and aims to restore and maintain health and wellbeing by balancing your internal life force or Ki, pronounced "chee".
Shiatsu can be very relaxing in pregnancy, aiding sleep and easing stress, constipation, oedema, sickness and heartburn. During labour, shiatsu can help to relieve contraction pain, stimulate contractions if necessary and deal with retained placenta. After the birth of your baby, shiatsu can help with milk production, help with postnatal depression and treat problems such as constipation and fatigue.