Alternative therapies for your pregnancy body

Our expert answers all your questions on alternative therapies such as massage, acupuncture and aromatherapy for your pregnant body

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Acupuncture can help reduce symptoms such as morning sickness

Q:  I’m looking to try out some alternative relaxation therapies like Indian head massage. Could you tell me how it works and whether it’s safe to try during pregnancy?

A: Indian Head Massage is an ancient form of massage that works by releasing stiffness and muscle tension in the upper body. This is particularly useful for aches and pains in the third trimester, when your upper back rebalances to compensate for your growing bump. It’s also safe in early pregnancy, and can relieve common first trimester ailments like headaches, migraines and insomnia. The face and head massage is particularly effective for these problems. However, you must tell your therapist about any concerns you may have – particularly blood pressure issues – so they can tailor the treatment accordingly.

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Q: I know that I should be careful when having massages during pregnancy because of the contraindications of some of the oils, but are there any other beauty therapies that I should steer clear of?

 A: Pampering during pregnancy is a positive thing for you and your baby, but there are a few points to consider. Firstly, be sure to tell your therapist that you are pregnant, however early. Get her to check that the ingredients of any product used are safe in pregnancy – including facials and acid peels. Your pregnant body may be more sensitive, partly because of the different hormonal and fluid balance, but also to protect the baby from harmful substances. Avoid any kind of detox treatment; products that are strong enough to exert a detox effect are too stimulating. Any treatment that uses electric current or heat – like some body wraps or electric blankets – is a bad idea, especially in early pregnancy. Waxing is safe but be warned that it’s usually more painful in pregnancy – until the last few weeks that is, when your pain threshold increases for the birth!

Q: I have heard you can make an aromatherapy oil that can be used from 37 weeks and during labour to help with the pain. I can’t remember the names of the oils – can you help?

A: The classic labour massage oil contains clary sage and lavender. Add one drop of each oil to 10ml (or 2 tsp) of carrier oil. Your uterus is a muscle, and when it is working hard it can become tired and tight – and the contractions will feel more painful. The combination of the oils and massage helps to keep your uterus relaxed. Clary sage is antispasmodic and helps to make contractions more effective, while lavender is calming, so will help you stay in control of your breathing. You could also try inhaling the clary sage: it’s classified as having weak narcotic properties, and some consider it to have a gas and air effect.

Q: I’ve developed haemorrhoids, which are horrible and painful! Are there any alternative remedies I can try?

A: Haemorrhoids (or piles) are a common problem in pregnancy thanks to the hormones that relax blood vessels. Veins around the back passage swell, causing inflammation and pain in the area. The first approach should be dietary: plenty of water, fruit and vegetables will reduce constipation, which helps to ease pressure on the veins, preventing the problem from getting worse. Flavonoid-rich food is also useful. It has been found to be anti-inflammatory and it strengthens blood vessels – try adding purple grape juice and dark berries to your daily diet.

If you are constipated, reflexology is worth a try – it can help the functioning of your bowel, reducing the need to strain. There are also effective natural creams on the market: look for ones containing witch hazel, which reduces any bleeding by acting as an astringent; and horse chestnut extract, which reduces swelling and inflammation and also strengthens blood vessel walls.

Q: My friend recommended acupuncture for morning sickness – does it work?

A: The benefits of Chinese medicine for treating morning sickness are well documented. A recent study showed that most women who tried acupuncture felt significantly better and reported a marked reduction in nausea and vomiting.

In Chinese medicine, morning sickness is seen as an imbalance in the stomach energy that interferes with the breakdown of food and changes the way food is moved through the digestive tract. The treatment is based on strengthening the energetic function of the stomach and correcting any underlying disharmonies, and dietary advice is usually given to reduce the workload of the stomach. One of the main points used is PC 6, which can be found three finger widths above the crease of the inner wrist. It lies directly between the two tendons felt there. Placing firm pressure on this point for around five minutes during the nausea can be effective.

Q: Can raspberry leaf tea really be useful in preparing the body for labour?

A: Recent research has supported the use of raspberry leaf in preparation for labour. In a study, 192 first-time mums were given either a placebo or a 1.2g tablet of raspberry leaf, twice a day from 32 weeks. Mums on the tablet had a shorter second stage of labour, as well as a lower forceps rate: 19%, compared with 30% in the placebo group.

Raspberry leaf works by toning and improving the condition of the muscles of your womb and pelvis, which allows for stronger contractions, making the labour more efficient. It’s also useful to drink during labour if progress is slow, and can be sipped freely at this time.

You could use the tea or tablets; both are available from health food shops. Take as the label directs for the tablets, and for the tea, work from one cup a day at 34 weeks up to a maximum for four cups a day in week 40.

Q: I enjoy aromatherapy massages, but I’ve been told that some essential oils should be avoided during pregnancy. Which ones could be dangerous?

A: Some oils should never be used in pregnancy, others can only be used after your due date, and some depend on your symptoms. The first group of oils is too toxic: these include sage, basil, myrrh and clove. The second group – clary sage, jasmine, peppermint, fennel, nutmeg, marjoram and black pepper – can stimulate uterine muscles or have a strong hormonal effect, so can only be used when you are full term. Rosemary, ginger and juniper are contraindicated for women who have high blood pressure, epilepsy, serious oedema (water retention) or kidney problems. Please continue to have your treatments with a trained aromatherapist – they will enhance your health and enjoyment of your pregnancy. And if in doubt, citrus oils like mandarin and orange are the safest for you and your baby.

Q: I’m interested in hypnotherapy during labour. Are there any particular products or courses that you’d recommend?

A: Hypnotherapy for labour is usually taught in classes or on a one-to-one basis. In a typical session, you and your partner would be taught simple but specific self-hypnosis, relaxation and breathing techniques, as well as different ways to experience and control pain. The way that a labour progresses has a lot to do with how relaxed your feel. Anxiety, fear and a sense of loss of control can inhibit your body’s natural ability to birth. Your beliefs about birth and how you feel you will cope are explored in order to understand and release any fears you may have about your labour.

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HypnoBirthing UK is a well-established organisation that runs classes all round the country. Natal Hypnotherapy, meanwhile, offers a range of CD’s to suit your particular pregnancy experience and birth choice. Visit www.hypnobirthing.co.uk or www.natalhypnotherapy.co.uk for more information.

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