Reflexology supports pregnant women with birth anxiety and fear of childbirth

Blog reflexology birth anxiety

In the run-up to our second FHT Integrated Healthcare Conference on 29 November 2019 (, we asked our reflexology members to provide us with an insight into their work so we could share some short case studies to highlight just some of the many ways this popular therapy is helping to improve the nation’s health.

Jane Tomlinson-Wightman, an FHT member and midwife, explains how she uses reflexology to support women suffering from birth anxiety and fear of childbirth…

Feeling a little anxious about childbirth and what it will entail is perfectly natural. However, for some women, the fear is so great that it not only impacts their mental health and quality of life in the run-up to giving birth, but can affect the birthing process itself, including labour times and the level of pain they experience.

In my role as the lead midwife for Safe Active Birth (SAB) at the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Trust, I set up a complementary therapy service in 2016, which includes reflexology.

The aim was to provide a personalised, holistic approach to supporting pregnant women suffering from birth anxiety and fear of childbirth. Women can fear childbirth for any number of reasons, but in those who are referred to the SAB service, it is not uncommon for us to see women who have had a previous traumatic birth experience, have tokophobia (a phobia of childbirth) or other mental health issues, who have suffered from sexual abuse or domestic violence, or who have obstetric complexities.

Women who opt to have reflexology as part of their birth plan receive weekly treatments at 37 weeks (to reduce the risk of premature onset labour) up until the birth of their baby. Anecdotally, we know that the treatment benefits experienced by these women include a reduction in the fear and anxiety of childbirth, and an improved birthing experience. It is also widely accepted that relaxation can help to reduce adrenaline, which intensifies labour pain.

However, it is also clear that other potential benefits of the service may include a reduction in analgesics, a reduction in the number of self-elected caesarean sections, and a reduction in post-traumatic stress disorder and postnatal depression – all of which can adversely impact birthing women and draw off valuable NHS resources.

In order to formally evaluate and continue the reflexology service provided at SAB, which is accessible to women across all socioeconomic groups (including those who might not be able to pay for such treatments), I am currently undertaking an internship with the National Institute for Health Research. This allows me to continue providing the service as a ‘research practitioner’, which is referred to as ‘implementation science’. So far, all is going well and I look forward to sharing the top line results of this research work with other FHT members a little further down the line.

Client testimonials…

Jane’s client, Dr Joanne Price, says: ‘I have been fortunate enough to personally benefit from Jane’s expertise. She offers years of midwifery experience alongside a passionate, knowledgeable approach to reflexology, which results in a holistic approach to pregnancy-related anxiety. My treatment programme was bespoke, adapting to changes in my emotional and physical state to address feelings of tension, fear and apprehension that had resulted from previous pregnancy experiences. I hope that in the future many more women will be fortunate enough to benefit from Jane’s expertise.’

Another client said: ‘I knew that my anxiety about the birth would impact my pregnancy and labour, but despite this I wasn’t able to control my anxiety. I would often be in tears during my antenatal appointments when discussing the labour. I found reflexology sessions with Jane a massive benefit. Not only did I notice a difference in my anxiety levels following the sessions but they gave me something positive to focus on and look forward to, especially as I went over my due date and became more anxious about the delivery.’

Did you enjoy this excerpt?
The above case study is an excerpt from a feature published in International Therapist magazine (Autumn 2019, Issue 130, Steps to health, pages 12-16). To find out more about the many benefits of being an FHT member, visit


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