Alternative healing, or complementary therapies, are treatments typically used alongside traditional medical care to address issues with a person’s mind, body, or both.
When it comes to pregnancy, more birthing people are exploring these methods — or considering continuing them — as they seek relief for common symptoms associated with being pregnant.
There are a number of complementary therapy options that birthing people can explore to determine what works best for them. Some, however, may need to be adapted to accommodate pregnant clientele, or may not be advisable during certain stages in pregnancy.
Here are six popular complementary therapies that can be integrated into a pregnant person’s prenatal care plan (and, in some cases, their postpartum, too). Each pregnancy is unique, and research and advances continue in the field of alternative healing. Pregnant individuals should always consult with their health provider before starting a new therapy.
Sound Bath Therapy
A sound bath is a meditative experience where participants are “bathed” in vibrations and sound waves to calm their mind and support body relaxation. The sound waves are produced by instruments such as singing bowls, the human voice, chimes and gongs.
Participants often lie on their backs — although a pregnant participant could choose a different position — as the sound waves wash over them.
During pregnancy, no instruments should be placed on the body, and a number of experts caution against birthing people specifically participating in singing bowl therapy sessions.
If a birthing person has used singing bowls in the past and wants to continue, they should consult their doctor. There are, however, a number of sound bath options that don’t involve singing bowls, including downloadable recordings and sound bath apps.
Reflexology is a form of massage that is practiced on a person’s hands and feet. While opinions vary on whether reflexology is helpful during pregnancy, the idea behind the practice is that pressing specific energy points can help with morning sickness and heartburn, among other symptoms in pregnant people. It can also be used to stimulate contractions during labor.
Because it can trigger contractions, birthing people interested in reflexology should seek out a therapist who is specifically trained to work with pregnant people.
Hypnotherapy uses hypnosis — an altered state of consciousness — to help birthing people feel physically, mentally and spiritually prepared for labor. Hypnobirthing continues to be an increasingly popular technique for birthing people anxious about labor. The method uses self-hypnosis and relaxation techniques to help reduce fear, anxiety and pain during childbirth. There is also ongoing research into the effects of hypnotherapy on postnatal depression.
Cupping therapy is an alternative form of medicine where a therapist puts special cups on an individual’s skin for a few minutes to create suction. Among its listed benefits are help with pain, inflammation, blood flow, relaxation and general well being. For pregnant individuals experiencing stiffness, lethargy and exhaustion, experts say light suction can be used (for no longer than five minutes at a time) beginning after the ninth week of pregnancy. Birthing people interested in this type of therapy should look for an experienced therapist who works with pregnant individuals. Therapists also cite postpartum benefits to cupping including a quick recovery, reduction of aches and pains, stiffness and general weakness.
Float therapy is a zero-gravity environment that mixes lukewarm water with 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt in a sensory deprivation tank to allow a person to float and achieve “weightlessness.”
Benefits in this type of therapy for pregnant individuals include reduced swelling, lower blood pressure, reduced stress, and strong promotion of parent-baby bonding because of the womb-like environment of the float tank.
Therapists say pregnant individuals can safely float during the first, second or third trimester of pregnancy, but a number of float therapy spas won’t allow pregnant floaters after 37 weeks of pregnancy because of the risk of their water breaking during the float.
Reiki is a Japanese form of alternative medicine called energy healing. Reiki practitioners use a technique called “palm healing” or “hands-on healing” through which energy is said to be transferred through the palms of the practitioner to the client, encouraging emotional and physical healing.
Reiki sessions, practitioners say, help pregnant individuals cope with the emotions that stem from the effects of their constantly changing bodies and symptoms.
Unlike massages, Reiki does not touch or work on muscles. Pregnant clients have the option to follow the position they’re most comfortable with, which is usually on their sides.