It is a widely held belief that reflexology is a therapy that induces relaxation and healing in the body. However, its benefits far surpass relaxation as it is an incredibly powerful enhancer of the production of breast milk.
While pregnancy, labour, new motherhood, and all the accompanying changes form part of a joyous and magical time, this is also a period of great stress for many new moms, which can have an enormous impact on lactation. This is where and how reflexology comes in.
What is reflexology?
Reflexology is an ancient therapy dating back to pre-Christian times based on the premise that the body, in its entirety, is reflected on each foot. By working on these reflexes, the corresponding organs in the body are stimulated to function more efficiently and in harmony with one another.
Should you doubt the “science” behind this therapy, bear in mind that in the late 1800s / early 1900s, the English neurologist Sir Henry Head (among several others), proved a neurological relationship between pressure applied to the skin and internal organs. In this way, diseased organs or those under strain could be identified when other parts of the body showed sensitivity.
“Various studies have been conducted into the effects of reflexology on lactation proving that mothers given reflexology after birth were able to breastfeed more quickly, and with more satisfaction.”
To illustrate this beautifully, whenever I work over the breast reflex area on the feet of a breastfeeding mom, she feels the stimulation of milk flow at precisely that moment. Coincidence? I think not.
What does the science say?
Various studies have been conducted into the effects of reflexology on lactation, proving that mothers given reflexology after birth are able to breastfeed more quickly, and with more satisfaction. In addition, reflexology helps avoid use of drugs in lactation that may be harmful to the baby and cause adverse side effects in the mother.
Other studies show that the supply of milk is greater in women who receive foot reflexology after birth, than those who don’t. Another study showed that reflex zone stimulation administered for 10 minutes a day for three days after the birth promotes milk flow and balances hormone production. One 40-minute reflexology session per day for six days resulted in an immediate increase in breast milk volume among mothers who had given birth to preterm infants, according to another study conducted and published by the Iranian Medical Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research. In my own practice, I have found that two weekly sessions for about three weeks and then a fortnightly maintenance session does the trick.
How does reflexology for lactation work?
During a reflexology session, various points on the feet are stimulated. One of these is the pituitary gland which is responsible for releasing prolactin, the hormone which stimulates and maintains milk production. Another hormone called oxytocin is also released, which creates the “let down” reflex in the breasts. Known as the “love hormone” its production is stimulated by affection, skin contact and feeling happy and in love.
The pituitary gland also produces a hormone that stimulates the adrenal glands to produce more cortisol – the hormone directly related to stress. A baby will ingest cortisol from its mother’s milk making it niggly, fidgety and prone to back-arching and screaming. Therefore, not only will stress impact on milk production, but it also has a role to play in baby’s state.
By stimulating the reflexes on the mother’s feet, a balance is achieved in the body’s systems and when there is balance, there is relaxation. All systems – from the endocrine (hormone) system through to the digestive system – function efficiently and the body can get on with that which it is meant to. In the case of a new mom, this is milk production. A relaxed mom makes for increased milk supply and, in turn, a satisfied, well-nourished and thriving baby.
Of course, all moms are different and some respond quicker than others. The results, however, have been astounding with one of my clients reporting that her milk production went from 60ml to 100ml and that her baby who was slow to gain weight had a weight increase from 100g a week to 450g in a week following reflexology – and this after one session only!
The bottom line is that most moms went home after their session and by the following morning had produced enough milk to fill several bottles for refrigeration or freezing. This in itself is an enormous load off the mind of a woman who has to go back to work but wants to continue breastfeeding for several more months.
Aside from the breastfeeding benefits, other systems in the body also get a show in. Tricky digestion, constipation from anaesthetics, poor sleep, anxiety, diabetes and high cholesterol to name a few can be positively impacted on in the same session.
Interesting facts to back up the importance of breastfeeding and the credibility of reflexology
- Milk supply depends on the amount of milk-making tissue rather than breast size. Once breastfeeding is established, you will make enough milk for your baby.
- Apparently, Marco Polo translated a Chinese massage book into Italian in the 1300s and, in so doing, reflexology and massage were introduced to Europe.
- Brain mass almost doubles in the first six months of life. Breast milk contains essential components for optimal development of the brain.
- In Japan and Denmark, several large corporates have reflexology as part of their corporate health programmes, saving each company thousands of dollars annually in paid out sick leave benefits.
- The protective effect of breastfeeding in lowering the risk of breast cancer has been shown in several studies. This risk reduction appears to be dose-dependant. In other words, the more months you breastfeed, the greater the benefit.
- Breast milk contains live stem cells. These could become bone, fat, liver or brain cells and maybe even act as a type of internal repair system for your baby.