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Complementary therapies

Some studies suggest that complementary therapies can help women feel in control of their labour and use less medication to reduce pain.

If you are thinking about using complementary therapies, it is important that you get advice from a person trained in that therapy. Very few maternity units provide these services on the NHS, so you would need to find a qualified therapist before you go into labour.


Hypnotherapy helps you give birth in a relaxing, calm environment free from stress, anxiety or fear. Being anxious, tense and stressed during labour can prevent the birthing muscles of your body from working as they should, hypnobirthing classes teach techniques to foster a sense of calm and tranquillity.

The hypnotherapy directory has been set up by a team of experts who are passionate about the benefits hypnotherapy can offer. This confidential service allows you to contact over 2,000 qualified hypnotherapists in the UK to ensure you have all the information you need.


Aromatherapy is the use of concentrated essential oils to reduce fear, improve wellbeing and give you encouragement. You can use this technique in combination with other methods of pain relief. The current research shows that aromatherapy is unlikely to have an effect on labour.

Massage and reflexology

Massage and reflexology are based on the idea that certain points on your body, hands and feet relate to points on the rest of your body. We do not know how it works, but it may work in a similar way to acupuncture (see below).

A reflexologist usually massages points on your feet that relate to the parts of your body that are painful in labour. The studies in this area are difficult to compare due to their wide variations of techniques but they generally reduce anxiety in labour and may reduce the intensity of labour pains.


Acupuncture is the use of fine sterile needles into specific points on your body to help reduce the pain. These are usually inserted in your arms and legs and can be left there for anything from 20 minutes up to the entire labour, depending on your wishes. In some units, the midwives have been trained to perform acupuncture in labour for pain relief. There are also private therapists that provide this service who would need to be with you during the labour.

The studies in these areas show that women who use these techniques need less pain relief and use less epidural anesthesia. There are other beliefs with acupuncture, including shorter labours, reduced need for oxygen augmentation ('hormone drip'), reduce risk of caesarean section deliveries or instrumental (use of a ventouse cup or forceps) deliveries.


Hypnotherapy uses the power of positive suggestion to bring about subconscious change to thoughts, feelings and behaviour. This technique of distraction is becoming more commonplace for labour pain. You'll have antenatal practice sessions to prepare for labour. This is usually with a midwife trained in hypno-birthing or an audio recording of a hypnotherapist.

Other therapies included homeopathy (using very dilute ingredients to reduce pain) and herbal remedies (produced from plants).


  • Smith CA, Collins CT, Cyna AM, Crowther CA. Complementary and alternative therapies for pain management in labour. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2006, Issue 4. Article number: CD003521. Date of issue: 10.1002/14651858.CD003521.pub2.