In the second part of our feature on preconception preparation, Victoria Gazzard describes how the therapies she practises work at each stage of the woman’s menstrual cycle
In our first article, Victoria talked about how her preconception programme can help with preparing to conceive. From diet and lifestyle factors, managing stress through to the emotional aspects of preparing to become a parent – she talked about the many aspects of care that the programme covers. She also talked about what the treatment would involve for the man.
For the woman, preconception care is very much focused around their monthly cycle. As this is so different for each woman, it is important to understand how your own specific cycle works. This knowledge and understanding is a key part of the preconception preparation programme offered by Victoria. Here she explains some of the key aspects she covers in relation to the woman’s individual cycle.
How does your work help women better understand their own body, so they can be more informed about how to optimise their chances of conceiving?
As part of their initial consultation, I will have gone through the signs of ovulation, how to better understand menstruation, the emotions involved and their own experience of their monthly cycle. I often find that many women have no idea of the amazing hormonal changes that the body goes through over the weeks to help prepare for conception. This may be due to a lack of education about this at school and the fact that many young girls are put on the pill at a young age and stay on it until they decide they want to start a family.
By building up knowledge of their own cycle, which can take up to three months to fully show what could be going on, it means that when they come to the stage of conception the work we have done has optimised the cycle or we have identified any blips that may need further investigations.
What type of information might you give to help women better understand their cycle?
This can include exploring the menstrual bleed, which in itself is a fabulous indicator to both their hormonal and reproductive health. A ‘normal’ bleed should ideally be pain free, it should start and flow red tailing off at the end. It should not be inconveniently heavy, there should not be any clots and women should not experience excessive PMS symptoms prior to menstruation or have pain, shooting pains or excessive cramping. Girls and women should not be taking time off school or work because of their period. Not many women know this because it is not openly discussed.
What type of signs does the body give to help women be more in their know about their unique cycle?
As well as exploring what a healthy bleed looks like, I talk about the bodily cues to look out for around ovulation, which again should be noticeable. At the start, it is about teaching them about their bodies and acknowledging how amazing it is. I always encourage them to look for their own signs, to keep a temperature chart, and to bring this information with them to subsequent sessions so I can map my work alongside that. For example, after ovulation body temperature should rise by about 0.2C or 0.4F due to the increase in progesterone during the second half of the cycle to help support conception. If your temperature rises, it shows that ovulation has happened; if it doesn’t, it could mean an anovulatory cycle (menstrual cycles where an egg does not mature, and a woman does not ovulate). By charting the temperature, and seeing if there is a rise and noting how long it stays elevated for, we can see if there is a problem with progesterone deficiency. Reproductive reflexology has helped many women experiencing issues with ovulation, erratic cycles, short luteal phase, PMS symptoms and painful periods.
So how does reproductive reflexology work to achieve this?
I work with the hormonal and reproductive systems via the associated reflexes on the feet. The reproductive reflexology treatments are about supporting, encouraging and reminding the body about what it’s supposed to do at each stage in the cycle. Where it can be of particular benefit is when a woman has an irregular cycle, as it can help balance and regulate this, which is essential for being able to time intercourse for conception.The treatments are on a weekly basis, until the cycle is looking regular, and we can identify that ovulation is happening. It is also important to be able to identify that the luteal phase of the cycle after the ovaries have released the egg is an adequate length, so if a conception has happened the progesterone is elevated enough to support it.
Are there particular aspects you will be focusing on at each stage of the monthly cycle?
Yes, very much so – this is what reproductive reflexology focuses on. In each week of the woman’s monthly cycle I will be focusing treatment on a specific area.
What does this involve in week 1 of the cycle?
In week 1, the treatment will happen while the client is bleeding. It will be about helping to balance the hormones and help the uterus to shed its lining. Depending on the position of their uterus within the pelvis, many women may find that blood may not clear easily and effectively. This treatment will also help with any pain and discomfort they may experience as part of their period and is the best time for treatment for women with endometriosis.
When trying to conceive this can be a particularly upsetting and frustrating time in the cycle, but it is worth noting that this is the first day of a new cycle and that we are working towards a new healthy lining and a fresh opportunity.
This time in the cycle should be honoured. Women naturally feel the need to retreat and withdraw from the world. It’s a time for rest, nourishment, self-care and reflection. It is a time to dream. It is also a great time for letting go of old emotions, attachments and experiences and releasing anything that isn’t serving you or is holding you back. The uterus reflexes may be tender during this treatment.
What about for week 2?
Treatment in week 2 is about stimulating and encouraging the ovaries and endocrine system to ovulate. So it will depend on what the individual client is presenting. For example, if they are struggling to ovulate, or are not ovulating at all, this session would help and it will be repeated weekly until we can see that ovulation has occurred. I may offer clients some homework to do at this point and will show them how to stimulate their own ovary reflexes if ovulation needs to be encouraged at this stage. This is particularly helpful for women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) who struggle to ovulate.
This treatment is relaxing yet quite energising as we are stimulating the systems to spring to life. This is also the time in a women’s cycle where she may have more energy and will be more active, cognitive functioning will be heightened, libido and self-confidence will be increased. Generally, this is the best phase of the cycle when we are proactive, we achieve and we get stuff done.
The ovary reflex may feel slightly tender on one foot towards ovulation, which may indicate the side the client ovulates from – how cool is that?!
Fertility Massage at this stage is also advisable and this can be done as a standalone treatment or combined with reflexology.
What happens in week 3?
The focus of this session is to treat the body as if conception has occurred, so as to aid implantation. The treatment is timed for 5-7 days post-ovulation to maximise its benefits. Hormone balancing and gentle work on the uterus reflex is carried out as well as stimulating the ovary reflexes, if we need to boost progesterone levels. Again, homework may be given if needed. Once ovulation has occurred and progesterone increases and oestrogen decreases the mood may shift: the woman may not feel so energised or as interested in her partner as she was, the energy boost of the follicular phase may have over-exerted and depleted and now is the time to start winding down.
And in the last week of the cycle, what will treatment focus on then?
The last week of the cycle after ovulation and following possible implantation is a very gentle treatment that balances and provides support of the energy systems. It also involves energy work to the uterus reflexes to support potential conception. These treatments are wonderful for clients who develop PMS symptoms at this stage and clients have even reported a reduction in breast pain due to focused work pre-bleed.
At this stage in a women’s cycle, energy may be depleting. Towards her bleed she may start to experience mood changes, bloating and cravings.
What can all of these weekly individualised treatments give to women?
By honouring the body and its natural fluctuations, by listening to how it is responding at its various stages instead of pushing to achieve and do, we can affect the natural cycle and menstruation. Reproductive reflexology helps encourage the body to do what it should be doing naturally by bringing it back into balance. It also helps to support the emotional aspects of the female experience, including stress and anxiety, which directly affect the hormonal system also.
You mentioned about Fertility Massage Therapy – how could this be of help?
Fertility Massage Therapy is another amazing treatment that works exceptionally well alongside Reproductive Reflexology and can be incorporated into a longer session or added on top of the reflexology. With Fertility Massage Therapy, I combine abdominal sacral massage with womb healing, acupressure, energy healing, guided visualisations, sound healing and rebozo techniques to stimulate movement, blood flow, release tension and emotion stored in the body.
What type of treatment programme do you recommend?
It is recommended that for at least one cycle my clients receive weekly sessions throughout a cycle. If the cycle is looking regular and there aren’t any medical conditions we need to treat, then we can drop the sessions to twice a month or twice in a cycle. However, more complex conditions such as PCOS and endometriosis may need a more intensive approach. To try to make it affordable I do offer packages that can save money.
If you missed Victoria’s first article on ‘Being ready to conceive: preconception care’, you can read it here.
For more information on Victoria, please see the practitioner section on our website. Call Victoria direct on 07701 046 226 for further information and to book an appointment, or use her online booking system. Alternatively, contact the Alma Vale Centre on 0117 377 1186 or e-mail us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coming soon: the next article in our series will focus on how to optimise your body when you are at the stage of being ready to conceive.