Complementary therapies can play a valuable role in labour in addition to,or as an alternative to, stronger forms of pain relief. Studies have shown that some therapies can help shorten labour and avoid complications.
You should always see a qualified practitioner who is registered with the governing organisation.
Aromatherapy oils are commonly used in massage and recent research has shown that aromatherapy can help reduce anxiety and fear and help the woman cope better with labour.
In one study, fewer women had weak contractions that needed stimulating with drugs and fewer women ended up with emergency caesarean sections.
Reflexology is a type of foot massage in which each part of the foot corresponds to a part of the body. Foot massage can be stress-relieving and comforting during labour but a reflexologist may also be able to help to start an overdue labour, reduce pain, regulate breathing and stimulate efficient contractions.
Herbalism and homeopathy can be used for the labouring woman but must be prescribed by a qualified practitioner. Some practitioners will teach the partner how to use a labour kit•.
Acupuncture is said to stimulate the Qi (energy channels of the body). Fine needles are inserted into the skin at various points of the body and can be used in labour to relieve pain and treat problems. Moxibustion, where a herb is heated and held against an acupuncture point, may turn a breech baby into a head-down position• before labour starts.
Shiatsu (sometimes called Acupressure•) means finger pressure. Points of the body are pressed and this may help to start an overdue labour, stimulate contractions, revitalise an exhausted woman, and relieve pain.
Self-Hypnosis is a form of deep relaxation. Studies have shown that it may increase a woman's satisfaction with her labour.
• Burns E, Blamey C. Ersser SJ, and others. The use of aromatherapy in intrapartum midwifery practice: an evaluative study. Oxford: Oxford Brooks University, Oxford Centre for Health Research and Development, July 1999.
• Castro, M. (1992) Homeopathy for mother and baby. Macmillan, London.
• Cardini F et al (1991) Moxibustion & breech presentation. American Journal of Chinese Medicine XIX (2), 105.
• Arthurs, G (1994) Hypnosis & acupuncture in pregnancy. British Journal of Midwifery, 2 (10), 495-8.
• Freeman, R.M, et al (1986) Randomised trial of self-hypnosis for analgesia in labour. British Medical Journal, 292, 657-8.