Denise and her blog

Published : 12/06/2024

Safe Use Of Natural Remedies In Pregnancy: Guidelines For Maternity Professionals


The use of natural remedies is at an all-time high, especially in pregnancy. Women are advised not to take drugs unnecessarily, yet many do not appreciate the potential risks of inappropriate self-administration of herbal and other remedies. Natural remedies (NRs) have, of course, been used for centuries and were traditionally a significant part of midwifery care until around the 17th century when the emerging medical and pharmaceutical professions took control of healthcare. We know that, today, around 80% of expectant parents resort to complementary therapies and particularly to self-medication with NRs, perhaps as a means of recapturing some of that control of pregnancy and birth that has been lost in the mists of time. Herbal medicines, including many traditional and folk remedies, act in exactly the same way as drugs (and can interfere with them). They are not regulated in the same way as drugs and are relatively easy to access in health stores.   

Midwives, doulas and doctors may be asked for information or advise on herbal remedies such as raspberry leaf tea for birth preparation, clary sage and other aromatherapy oils for use in labour or to avoid an induction or, occasionally on homeopathic medicines such as arnica for perineal bruising. However, this is not a subject that is taught within pre-registration training for midwives and obstetricians, despite the increasing use by the public. Whilst herbal medicine is a self-regulated profession in its own right with graduate level training of at least three years, the issue for birth professionals is not those women who consult medical herbal practitioners but those who wish to use remedies and oils at home, sometimes without adequate knowledge to use them safely.

Many people, including conventionally trained healthcare professionals, believe that because these remedies are “natural” they are also safe – but this is not the case. Anything that has the power to do good also has the potential to do harm if not used appropriately. No remedy is suitable for every expectant, labouring or newly-birthed woman – and many are not suitable at all.

So how can maternity professionals advise expectant parents? Here are some guidelines to help you:


  • All NRs should be treated with the same respect as that given to pharmaceutical drugs.
  • No remedy should be used routinely for prolonged periods of time and NEVER as a replacement for proven medical treatment, especially in the event of an emergency.
  • Women should be advised to avoid ALL NRs before and during pregnancy, labour and breastfeeding unless under the supervision of an appropriately qualified, insured professional.
  • Women should be asked at their first antenatal appointment to reveal if they are using any NRs and their answers recorded in the maternity notes.
  • Women should be advised to seek professional advice on NRs and not to rely on information obtained from the Internet, social and other media or friends and family.
  • Women should be informed that not all NRs are approved, regulated or evidence based. NRs obtained from the Internet may be falsely labelled, contaminated with chemical impurities or contain banned or toxic ingredients.
  • Women should be informed about the possible risks of taking pharmacologically active herbal remedies or using aromatherapy essential oils, including adverse effects such as allergies and interactions with other NRs, prescribed medications or foods.
  • Advise women against combining several different NRs / complementary therapies: take only one remedy at a time, particularly at term when women may seek to expedite labour.
  • Aromatherapy essential oils should not be applied to the skin neat; they should not be taken orally, rectally or used in or around the vaginal opening; keep away from eyes. Avoid using oils in the birthing pool.
  • Pregnant maternity professionals and birthing companions should avoid exposure to (inhalation of)  essential oils intended to promote uterine contractions during labour eg clary sage, jasmine.
  • NRs should be avoided / discontinued in the event of any medical, obstetric or fetal pathology, either pre-existing, gestationally-induced or occurring incidentally during pregnancy, labour or postnatally.
  • Maternity professionals should consider the possibility that deviations from normal progress in pregnancy or labour may be linked to undisclosed use of NRs.
  • Women admitted to the antenatal ward have, by definition, pathological complications requiring medical attention; they must be asked directly if they are self-administering NRs.
  • Women should be advised to discontinue all pharmacologically active NRs (herbal and traditional medicines) at least two weeks prior to elective surgery or dental extraction to reduce the risk of excessive bleeding.


Published : 11/06/2024

Why is it that “money” is a dirty word in the NHS?

Recently, I was teaching aromatherapy and acupressure to midwives at a large London hospital. In the course evaluation, I was accused of being too commercial because I was providing information on my textbooks (offered for sale as a learning resource) and on other courses they could take with Expectancy (in response to direct questions from a few midwives). This was not only distressing but blatantly unfair as I am always conscious of not being overly “sales-y”. This was a group that had been funded by the NHS trust to attend the course – and who were also able to attend it in their work time – so there was no obligation to appreciate the financial element of having the course.

Why is it that “money” is a dirty word in the NHS? Did the midwives think the course was provided free of charge? Did they not recognise that the training not only cost the fees that were paid to Expectancy by the trust but also that the clinical hours “lost” to training had to be replaced with other midwives? Further, did they think I was providing it from a misplaced sense of altruism? Midwives do not seem to understand that everything costs money – and that they are paid for the services they provide in the form of a salary. Just because no money physically changes hands at the point of providing the service does not mean our “customers” (expectant parents) are not paying for it. Healthcare costs the UK over £180 billion a year and is funded largely through taxes - so working people pay for the NHS, including care for those who do not pay tax. However, ask any midwife how much it costs for a spontaneous vaginal birth, a Caesarean, a urine specimen pot or an epidural and no one can tell you – a factor that contributes to huge wastage since employees do not have to take personal responsibility for equipment, medicines and other tools used in client care, unlike in the private sector.

Midwives who choose to go into private practice, whether as independent midwives providing full birth services or in a self-employed capacity offering services such as pregnancy complementary therapies, antenatal classes or tongue-tie division, are often castigated by colleagues because they dare to charge their clients. Yet there are services provided in the private sector that are not available on the NHS – and which some expectant and birthing parents choose to access and to pay for.  Similarly, increasing numbers of midwives are choosing to work outside the NHS – perhaps because they want a better work-life balance or are committed to offering services less accessible in the NHS. This is, as I have said before, about choices.

Prospective clients know that there will be a charge, should they choose to access private services – and it is not a problem for them. If they don’t want to pay it, they don’t become clients. If they become clients, they are happy to pay. Midwives who choose to work for themselves usually find it really difficult to price their services and to ask clients for the money – but they need to tackle this issue if they are going to be successful. If a midwife goes to the hairdresser, she expects to pay the going rate – so why is it so difficult to ask to be paid for the services offered? Obstetricians who work in private practice have no such qualms – although in fairness, they usually have an administrator who actually invoices their clients, effectively removing doctors from actually asking for the money. It would, however, be well worth any midwife considering private practice to have a chat with an obstetrician about this aspect before they set up their business.

Charging a realistic price for services can make the difference for a self-employed midwife between success and failure. Being aware of exactly what it is they are charging for is the first step on this difficult road. Prices are based on costs of training, setting up the business, costs of the actual service equipment and other aspects that have to be factored in – insurances, unpaid holidays of sick leave, legal and accountancy services and much more. On my business training days, we discuss “money” a lot and try to work out realistic pricing strategies so that clients feel they are receiving value for money without being fleeced, and midwives feel appropriately remunerated to fund their lifestyle without the guilt of over-charging. It’s a fine balance, but one that has to be confronted. If you’re considering starting your own business – come and find out how to “get over ” the charging-for-services  hurdle!

 


Published : 10/06/2024

It’s Aromatherapy Awareness Week!

I strongly believe in the power of holistic care for expectant parents and maternity service professionals.

As a midwife, staying updated with the latest advancements in aromatherapy and other complementary therapies is essential.

We recommend updating your aromatherapy knowledge every two years to ensure you provide the best care possible.

Tips for practitioners:

🌸 Start with basic essential oils like lavender and sweet orange for relaxation.

🌸 Integrate aromatherapy into birth care to create a calming environment.

🌸 Stay informed about the latest research on aromatherapy benefits and risks.

Learn new knowledge and skills on our Expectancy Certificate in Midwifery Aromatherapy.


Published : 25/05/2024

Making The Move To Starting Your Own Maternity-Related Business

So … you have decided to set up your own business … but where do you start? It’s vital to research what you want to do and how you want to do it. Don’t be tempted to rush ahead with enthusiasm as this may cause you to make mistakes (which can be costly – professionally, financially, or even legally) or you may find you have to “unpick” something you initiated too early. I have mentored many midwives who become so excited about branching out on their own that they forge ahead with ideas that are only partly thought-through, often with disastrous consequences (I’ve also done it myself in the early days!). Make sure you are deciding on private practice for the right reasons – are you moving towards something better or running away from an untenable situation? 

Once you’ve decided that you really do want to set up your own practice - and having looked honestly at your reasons for doing so - you now need to start by making some concrete plans. Decide on the specific services you wish to provide and consider how you would like to provide them. Take time to think about things, leaving it for a while and going back with fresh eyes once you have had time to consolidate your ideas. Try to identify exactly what you wish to offer – if you don’t know, then neither will your potential clients understand what you are offering. It’s also counter-productive to include too many different elements at the start of your new venture and you need to be flexible enough so that other services can be added later.

When I set up Expectancy, I made the mistake of trying to be all things to all my potential customers. I wanted to offer clinical services to pregnant women, as well as professional courses. Not only did I want to provide education for midwives, but also for doulas, antenatal teachers and therapists. This meant that I was trying to spread myself and my colleagues (and my limited advertising budget) across at least four different markets. Indeed, my adverts were completely unclear because we had tried to have a “one size fits all” leaflet – which just did not work. Everyone was confused – including the team. It was only later that I made the decision to focus solely on offering professional courses preparing the students to provide their own clinical services that it started to make sense. When I finally decided to concentrate entirely on marketing courses and business services for midwives there was a consequent substantial growth in income. If I’d taken time and explored specifically what I wanted to do, I may have achieved success more quickly and more productively. You can’t start everything at once, and your business will develop as you grow.

Discuss your thoughts and plans with your family, your colleagues and, if possible, talk about your ideas with potential users of your services. Is there a market in your area for what you want to offer, and will women pay for it? You will need to be aware of what’s available to women via your local NHS services. For example, if you’ve decided to offer postnatal care and lactation services, be sure that you know how much - or how little – of this is provided by the local maternity services. Similarly, it would be difficult, both in business and professional terms, to offer a service for women who want to avoid induction of labour by accessing complementary therapies if your local maternity unit had already implemented a postdates pregnancy clinic. Perhaps you could start earlier than 40 weeks’ gestation and offer a pre-birth preparation package instead? Research the competition and look at ways in which you may be able to offer something different or better. Which service providers in your area are successful, or more successful than others? Do they have a particular focus on how they market (sell) their services? Are there other midwives or doulas in your area already offering what you are considering?

Taken from Denise’s book The Business of Maternity Care, a guide for midwives and doulas setting up in private practice (Tiran 2019)


Published : 13/05/2024

What Is A Practising Midwife?

Why is it that many midwives believe - incorrectly - that those who are not working in NHS clinical midwifery are not practising midwives? 

 I recently saw a Facebook question asking who had left midwifery and wanting to know what they were doing now. Almost half of respondents actually stated that they had "left" midwifery - yet they were still registered for NHS bank work or had roles that required a midwifery (or nursing) registration, such as safeguarding. There were one or two ex-midwives now working as doulas (in which case they are required to lapse their midwifery registration), but the majority were practising midwives by virtue of still being on the NMC register, even if they were not employed by the NHS.

This disrespect for midwives not working in NHS clinical practice extends across the whole profession. At the recent RCM annual conference, I overheard a midwife joking about a colleague having "gone over to the dark side" ie, into midwifery teaching. When I left the university sector, where I had worked as a midwifery lecturer, to set up Expectancy, I had colleagues wishing me well "on my retirement" - despite the fact I was about to embark on a journey on which I would work harder than ever before. There was even one who implied that I could not possibly be as good a lecturer now I was about to go freelance as I had been the previous week when I had been employed.

Even at the highest levels, there are often comments made about the number of midwives who have "left" the profession. And yes, midwives are leaving the NHS in droves, but they have not all rescinded their midwifery licence to practise. Some move into independent midwifery, whilst others set up their own businesses providing maternity complementary therapies, antenatal education, lactation support or tongue-tied division. Leaving the NHS to work in a self-employed capacity is seen as traitorous by many, and the notion of actually charging for their services is the ultimate treachery. This is despite the fact that these same midwives do not work for nothing in the NHS - they receive a salary.

When I teach business studies to the midwives who join Expectancy to start their own businesses, we spend some time discussing their personal attitudes to becoming self-employed and to physically charging for the work they do. There are some who never quite overcome what I call "the NHS mentality" - and who consequently only achieve a "hobby business" that they enjoy and that gives them some pin money for a few extras in their lives. But there is a growing number of midwives who embrace this new challenge wholeheartedly and who become successful as "endorsed by Expectancy" business owners.

The nature of maternity care is changing and pregnant women are increasingly prepared to pay for what they want. We talk a lot in midwifery about giving women choices - but what about the midwives? Don't they deserve to be able to make choices about the way they work? A qualification in midwifery prepares you to practise midwifery anywhere in the world (subject to local national requirements) and in any setting in which pregnant, birthing or new parents require our support. This includes teaching and private practice. The NHS doesn't own you and charging for your professional midwifery services is not the heinous crime some would infer.

Let's learn to respect ALL our midwifery colleagues wherever and however they choose to work. The term "practising midwife" refers to anyone with a midwifery qualification who - in the UK - is currently registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council.


Published : 04/05/2024

The Power of Reflexology: Predicting Stages of the Menstrual Cycle

Reflexology is a popular relaxation therapy and often used as a therapeutic technique to ease physiological discomforts of pregnancy and the postnatal period. “Reflexology” is not a single complementary therapy, but a generic term for a wide variety of different modalities. The principle of all types of reflex therapy is that one small area of the body (usually the feet) represents a “map” of the whole, with all parts of the body reflected in that defined area. Almost all styles of reflex therapy focus primarily on using the two feet to represent the “map” or chart of the whole, with every part of the body identifiable on one or both feet, although the precise location of different organs varies considerably between different styles of reflex therapy. The application of manual pressure to specific points aims to induce a sense of relaxation, relieve pain, reduce stress and, with some modalities, to treat specific clinical conditions. By working on these precise points on the feet, impulses are thought to be directed to the various organs, having a physiological effect on that distal part of the body to which the foot point relates.

Most forms of reflexology currently used in the UK, USA and southern Europe are based on modified versions of early 20th century charts. In the 1950’s, a German midwife, Hanne Marquardt, refined reflexology into a dynamic clinical tool for treating various clinical conditions. The Marquardt style of reflex zone therapy (more recently renamed as “reflexotherapy”) is notably different from generic reflexology, with a different “map” of the feet, different terminology, different therapeutic techniques and different pressures. It is commonly used by midwives in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Scandinavia. RZT is the basis of my personal style of practice which I have taught to many midwives around the world and Expectancy is the only UK organisation offering RZT courses specifically for midwives.  

RZT can be useful from the preconception period to the end of the postnatal period. Regular reflexology treatments allow women to take time for themselves; the accumulative physical and emotional effects assist in preparing them for the birth through a proven reduction in stress levels which automatically increases oxytocin levels. When physical discomforts occur during pregnancy, specific techniques can be used to reduce symptoms such as sickness, backache and sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome, constipation and oedema. Receiving regular RZT in the final weeks of pregnancy may contribute to spontaneous labour onset, reduced duration of the first stage and greater parental satisfaction.  During labour, it can reduce anxiety, pain and duration of the first stage. 

Many reflexologists claim to be able to “read” the feet and there is growing evidence to suggest a correlation between reflexology points and physiology as well as actual, impending or previous pathology. From my work whilst at the University of Greenwich, I found I was able to identify stages of the menstrual cycle in non-pregnant women, using the foot reflex zones for the reproductive tract and the pituitary gland (a different location from most styles of reflexology, defined by my own research). It is possible to identify in non-pregnant woman with average 28-day menstrual cycles whether they are in the follicular or luteal stage of their cycles, which ovary is active and then to predict the date of onset of the next menstrual period. My results showed a 65-70% success rate and I have since taught midwives on my courses how to do this assessment.  I also adapted the technique to enable an estimation of the onset of labour based on palpation of the two reflex zones for the pituitary gland. Accumulated experience over many years suggests that the pituitary reflex point on the right foot is tender throughout pregnancy, inferring that it is consistent with ongoing anterior pituitary activity. However, the pituitary point on the left foot becomes increasingly tender as term approaches, potentially reflecting the changes in hormonal activity as pregnancy hormones decline and labour hormones increase in readiness for the birth. When the pituitary zone on the woman’s left foot is more tender than (or at least equal to) that on the right, this suggests that labour is imminent, albeit based on a subjective assessment by the woman on the severity of tenderness. The pituitary gland reflex zones are fundamental to midwifery practice of RZT and the primary points to be stimulated for facilitating labour onset. In addition to using this point for postdates pregnancy or to avoid early term induction. It is also useful for encouraging progress in the latent phase of labour, as well as for stalled first stage, retained placenta and, postnatally for lactation, all of which rely on the production of oxytocin. 

If you would like to learn how to use RZT in midwifery, including estimating stages of the menstrual cycle and onset of labour, contactinfo@expectancy.co.uk for details of our Certificate in Midwifery Reflex Zone Therapy commencing 28th September 2024.


Published : 02/05/2024

Aromatherapy in Fife

I can hardly believe that April is almost over. Time has flown by so quickly!

One of my highlights was leading the aromatherapy and acupressure course for postdate pregnancy in Fife, Scotland.

It was wonderful visiting the midwives who are eager to embrace the nurturing aspects of midwifery and to establish a service for women seeking alternatives to induction for being overdue. They are committed to promoting natural birthing processes and reducing medical interventions at the unit.

Twelve enthusiastic midwives are now dedicated to this new initiative!

A special thanks to Louise Hepburn and the group for their warm hospitality. 


Previous articles

Safe Use Of Natural Remedies In Pregnancy: Guidelines For Maternity Professionals

Why is it that “money” is a dirty word in the NHS?

It’s Aromatherapy Awareness Week!

Making The Move To Starting Your Own Maternity-Related Business

What Is A Practising Midwife?

The Power of Reflexology: Predicting Stages of the Menstrual Cycle

Aromatherapy in Fife

What has happened to childbirth?

Denise looks back

Raspberry Leaf – Not A Way To Start Labour