Here Lyn Franklin, a reproductive reflexologist from AromaReflex - Reflexology for Natural Fertility, IVF & Pregnancy, shares her thoughts on the current Covid-19 crisis and helps us understand the ins and outs of reproductive reflexology - what is it, what are the benefits and how does treatment work.
We’re living in very unfamiliar times and it’s unclear how long it will continue. Our routines have gone out the window and we seem to be on overdrive with our screens - not only for work and home schooling, but for keeping in touch with friends and family as well. It’s hugely draining as our weekdays blur into the weekends, with seemingly no let up or time to refresh. It’s exhausting! So if you’re trying to conceive on top of all this, I know for many, it has felt like the end of the world.
One minute you were embarking on investigative tests or starting a long awaited IVF cycle and then…nothing… everything on hold. I know the uncertainty has been unbearable for some, with hopes and plans dashed in an instant…time seemingly ebbing away with no idea when things will change.
It was therefore very encouraging to hear the HFEA announce that from week commencing 11th May fertility clinics can apply to reopen. This is such welcome news, though realistically it could take a little while for things to get back on track – in the meantime the loss of control, stress and anxiety can be overwhelming and, if left unchecked, it has a knock on effect on everything.
If I may offer a slightly different perspective, there’s an opportunity here to take back some control of the things you can. To use this time to be kind and take care of yourself so you’re in the best possible health for when things eventually do get back to some form of normality. Whilst it’s tempting to sleep late, stay in our PJ’s, drink more coffee or alcohol and eat a load of comfort food - it’s really important to set a few ground rules and build in some structure.
Waking at a similar time, showering and getting dressed for the day. Pacing yourself with work, eating regular, nutritious meals and drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Reducing sugary snacks and cutting out alcohol and caffeine if you can or limit to just the odd cup or glass once or twice a week. Not forgetting to take your fertility boosting supplements as well!
Getting ‘me-time’ is a must as well as getting enough restorative sleep – sleep quantity and quality is not only vital for general well-being but also for the production of thriving eggs and sperm! Perhaps diffuse some relaxing essential oils or have a lovely candle-lit bath or read a book - whatever you fancy - the aim is to avoid your phone and laptop screen and allow your mind to really switch off and prepare for a good night’s rest.
Of course I swear by reflexology - reflexology is an ancient, non-intrusive complementary health therapy based on the theory that different points on the feet, lower leg, hands, face or ears correspond with different areas of the body. Reflexologists believe that working these points, usually on the feet, encourages the whole body to work more efficiently, aiding relaxation, improving mood and overall sense of well-being. We work holistically with clients, alongside standard healthcare, to promote better emotional and physical health.
So you could also try the simple hand reflexology techniques in this short video produced by the Association of Reflexologists for promoting sleep - also great for doing on another family member!
Just taking one day at a time and incorporating a few of these suggestions will make a huge amount of difference. If you’d like some support please get in touch.
Reproductive Reflexology (ReproflexologyTM)
I practise Reproductive Reflexology (ReproflexologyTM) - a specialist therapy pioneered and carefully developed by Barbara Scott over 20 years - Barbara is Chair of the Association of Reproductive Reflexologists (ARR).
So what is it?
Reproflexology uses reflexology for the study and treatment of male and female reproductive and fertility conditions. This form of reflexology can be used as a stand-alone treatment to support natural fertility or can be used alongside all forms of assisted conception treatment including Clomid, IUI, IVF, ICSI and IMSI. It can also be used to support individuals and couples using surrogacy or donors in IVF cycles. Members of the Association of Reproductive Reflexologists (MARR) are specially trained, using structured and prescriptive treatment plans, to support couples in preparation for and through all phases of their assisted conception treatment.
Whether trying naturally or planning an assisted cycle it is a good idea to start preparing at least three months in advance - with specific changes in lifestyle and diet in conjunction with reproflexology it is possible to significantly reduce stress, improve hormone levels and improve the quality of the eggs and sperm being produced.
Treatment plans are fully tailored and will be discussed at the initial consultation. They will vary according to whether the individual or couple is trying to boost their chances of conceiving naturally or whether they require support whilst undertaking assisted fertility treatment. We are also able to assist surrogates and donors, where appropriate, in the run up to and during a cycle of treatment.
What will happen at the first appointment?
Ideally we like to see both parties at the initial consultation. It’s really important to engage men in the process from the start as it gives an opportunity to explain that male reproductive health is just as important as the female’s when it comes to making babies. There can be many complex causal factors involved for male and female fertility however, we understand that fertility issues are attributable proportionally: a third female, a third male and a third joint. So we’re missing a huge part of the picture if we don’t look at male fertility also.
We send a Pre-Conceptual Questionnaire to be completed and returned in advance of the first appointment - this gives a brief history of the fertility journey so far - upon which to build at the initial consultation - we also ask to see the results of any blood hormone tests and scans including a recent semen analysis.
The initial consultation involves a lot of information gathering and picture building - aside from age, height and weight, we want to understand about general lifestyle - diet, alcohol and caffeine consumption, smoking and drug use, any medication, type of work and number of hours worked, sleep quality and quantity, exercise routines and perceived stress levels - all these have a huge impact on reproductive health. We ask a lot of questions about the menstrual cycle and any underlying conditions. Similarly we ask about any underlying male conditions and look in detail at the semen analysis test results. In some circumstances, where there is a history of early recurrent miscarriage or repeated non implantation in IVF treatment, we will refer the male partner for a Sperm DNA fragmentation test, which tests for levels of Sperm DNA damage.
Once we have the full picture we can develop a treatment plan for moving one or both partners forward. We usually recommend working together over a three to four month period, in conjunction with lifestyle and dietary improvements, as we know this is how long it takes for the eggs and sperm to develop and mature. We use structured and prescriptive treatment plans for both men and women.
What are the benefits?
We aim to regulate the menstrual cycle and ensure that each phase is functioning at its best and treat any underlying conditions. We recommend using basal body temperature charting as this enables us to really see what is happening at each weekly phase of the menstrual cycle and to understand what needs addressing – it is also a wonderful tool for measuring progress as the treatment continues over the coming weeks and months. Check out our beginner's guide to fertility charting here.
We also aim to help underlying male conditions and improve semen parameters. We ask that couples repeat blood hormone tests and semen analysis after Reproflexology treatment in order to measure improvements and the efficacy of our treatment. Sometimes it can be as simple as regulating a cycle, understanding when ovulation occurs and timing things better!
Trying to conceive, in itself, can be hugely stressful and we know that cumulative stress can negatively impact reproductive hormones and therefore the ability to get pregnant. We support clients emotionally and also use techniques to help manage stress levels.
In my practice I choose to incorporate traditional reflexology into all my reproflexology treatments as I like to work holistically on all the body systems - plus it allows for a longer session where clients can really switch off if they wish. Reflexology is wonderfully calming and relaxing and clients often report sleeping well, feeling better in themselves and more positive after treatment.
What about people undergoing assisted reproduction?
We aim to help couples to conceive naturally however sadly this is not always possible. We normally use reproflexology to encourage the body to work as effectively and efficiently as it can, however, when we are working alongside an assisted cycle we work very differently. We use structured and prescriptive treatment plans to mirror and support each phase of the drug treatment protocol that is being undertaken - it is therefore vital that we have a copy of the treatment protocol being used.
We also aim to help minimize the side effects of the drugs being taken during the down regulation and stimulation phases. We need to be kept up to date on the results of all blood tests and scans to understand how things are progressing and how clients are responding to treatment - this enables us to tailor treatment accordingly to support the assisted cycle and to factor in additional treatments where necessary. In some instances we will show clients simple reflex points on the hands to work at home in between sessions to supplement and reinforce our work. We may also treat post egg harvest and before embryo or blastocyst transfer to help ease any discomfort from procedures
Some of our most valuable work is done during the two week wait when anxiety levels can be highest and it’s so important to keep stress levels to a minimum. If treatment is unsuccessful we have a treatment plan to assist the body to recover and then we proceed with the pre-conceptual care programme on a weekly basis to re-regulate the cycle and prepare for any further treatment.
We know going through an assisted cycle is extremely stressful - daily injections and meds, constant bloods and scans and the knowledge that treatment can be cancelled at any stage - leave alone the financial strains and the inevitable toll these factors can place on relationships. We are also here to offer emotional support and a listening ear - we really understand that fertility treatment can sometimes be a very lonely journey.
For more information about Reproductive Reflexology or to find a practitioner near you please visit www.reproductivereflexologists.org
NOTE - I wrote the article on Reproductive Reflexology (ReproflexologyTM) some time ago so it’s important to say that none of us ‘hands on’ practitioners are seeing clients face to face for the moment during the current Covid19 crisis. However many of us have adapted to work remotely, as there is so much we can still do to support new and existing individuals and couples as they prepare and plan for starting a family or fertility treatment. Plus there are some things you can be doing for yourself too!
For more information on Lyn and AromaReflex - Reflexology for Natural Fertility, IVF & Pregnancy, please check out Lyn's listing here.