Three or four times a month I get the following call:
...." Hi, I'm calling because I have been told that reflexology can help induce labor.... Can you explain to me if you can help me?"
I don't like half-truths. It is true that reflexology can do wonders to help to create a positive dynamic of labor, but this situation can occur only when we understand why reflexology is performed and under what conditions it should be performed. It is also crucially important to remember that nature has given the baby the role of deciding when to be born.
That's why instead of answering with a specific answer of yes or no, I feel I must ask some questions that will allow me to understand the reason for such a request. And guess what.... the reasons stated by the mother will not always match the baby's will.
Many times the mother’s request results from her being tired of the pregnancy or feeling anxious about the moment of birth. This does not develop when the due date is close, but many times the answers given by the mother reflect the doctor's pressure or even the expectant mum's convenience or wishes.
In all cases, reflexology can help in a great extent to create the adequate scenario to trigger the initiation of birth, but it can not do magic. What we must do in the first place is to respect the physiological process that occurs in the womb of the expectant mother and then understand why we must be patient.
What triggers labor?
The answer to this question is unknown. Yes, indeed. It is still one of nature's best kept secrets. No one has yet been able to explain why labor starts at a given time or what causes the baby to decide when to be born.
One of the most accepted hypotheses states that the process is initiated when the placenta has reached the limit of its lifetime; then the baby understands that it must now see the light of the world. When the baby feels and understands that the placenta that feeds it begins to age, sudden changes seem to occur in the endocrine system.
A decline in serum levels of progesterone occurs. Progesterone is a hormone that is focused on the preservation of pregnancy and the avoidance of contractions before term. It appears that this decrease in progesterone levels is what announces that the placental lifetime is over and that the time for the baby to be born has arrived.
The baby's hypothalamus gets the signal that the time has come, and it is believed that the Fetal Cortisol (CRH) initiates the birth process. The cortex of the adrenal glands of the baby begin to increase secretion of CRH by week 15, and then another increase happens in the period between weeks 35 and 37. Finally there is a sudden increase towards the end of pregnancy.
At the time of delivery, this sudden increase in CRH levels is understood by the hypothalamus as a sign that it time to act, which causes a chain reaction: the hypothalamus begins to produce oxytocin, which is transported and secreted by the pituitary gland into the baby's bloodstream and then travels through it to the umbilical cord, placenta and mother's womb to be received by the oxytocin receptors in the mother's womb.
These receptors in the uterus initiate a positive feedback: the neurotransmitters of oxytocin travel to the mother's hypothalamus, where they cause the production and secretion of oxytocin and endorphins, reaching the uterus to cause more contractions.
The positive feedback occurs when, due to the presence of oxytocin, the pituitary secretes more oxytocin.
In order to be produced and secreted by the mother, the serum levels of adrenaline should be low, which means that for the process to continue effectively, the mother should be completely relaxed. Adrenaline acts as an inhibitor of oxytocin, and high levels of the two hormones cannot be possible. While adrenaline rises in moments of stress, oxytocin can only rise in moments of deep relax, joy and pleasure. This is one of the signs of wisdom that nature provides: the baby is coming…be happy, and don't be nervous!
Stress, anguish and anxiety are currently some of the worst enemies for the correct and normal development of birth. The paradox is that the contractions will not come when the expectant mother is tense; instead, they occur when she feels relaxed. In order to help the contractions develop, she must relax, smile, breathe deeply, drink fluids continuously, and eat small snacks. All of this will help her to gain energy and to reduce the stress in her body, which will then reduce the obstacles to the development of birth.
So what to do?
Only nature with its infinite wisdom knows the secret by which it has given the power of the decision of when to be born to the baby. Knowing this, is there really anything we can do to prepare?
There is actually a lot we can do.
For months, we are preparing to receive the newborn with love and hope by arranging his room, his clothes and toys. It would also be very suitable to prepare our thoughts and energies to create for him the right conditions for birth so “the ballroom” is ready to receive the guest of honor.
We should strive to do everything possible so the baby perceives that we have done everything within our power to provide the right and appropriate scenario for a friendly and comfortable birth.
Reflexology treatment for birth preparation aims to work on anxiety, stress, worry, lack of rest, and other elements that can serve as barriers to naturally beginning the birthing process or those that can interrupt the process once it has started.
Relaxation can be very helpful during this time. A good reflexology treatment during the days prior to birth should include the following stages, prior to specific stimulation of the pituitary gland:
- Techniques should be used on the spinal reflexes in order to achieve a deep relaxation and tension elimination
- Endocrine balance techniques to minimize the stress levels caused by adrenaline
- Solar Plexus link technique, to relieve anxiety and distress
- Evacuation Systems, to promote clearance of toxins
Before helping to induce labor with reflexology, it's necessary to have a good understanding of the physiological process of childbirth, always bearing in mind that the baby has the first word by choosing its mom's womb to develop and choosing how and when to be born.
If you are a reflexologist, and you have been told that by only making pressure on the pituitary gland you can cause wonders during the birthing process, I am sorry to disappoint you. The stimulation of the pituitary gland is the last step and resource for this process, and it should only be used under certain conditions and with caution and patience.
Furthermore, if you are an expectant mother wanting to decide when your baby should be born, please remember that you may be ready to give birth; however, your baby may not yet be ready to be born.