Energy Healing as a Modality for Pregnancy Stressors
Pregnancy stimulates a major lifestyle adjustment that can often create stress for a mother, father, and even infant. Expectations not being met or settling into the unknown are common obstacles couples face during this time that can result in needing to incorporate strategies for regulating stress. Particularly, first-time parents or high-risk pregnancies can heighten the stress response to an already predisposed stressful situation.
Energy healing may be a modality that can help to reduce stress and allow for more ease of the pregnancy experience. Energy healing (EH) is a form of bodywork that addresses and rebalances the energy field of the body, often referred to as energy layers, chakras, acupressure points and meridians. Many forms of practice exist, such as guided meditation/imagery, Therapeutic Touch, Healing Touch, Reiki, Qi Gong, and Acupuncture. Although allopathic medicine has developed a remarkable array of advancements in caring for pregnancy, it has ignored the possibilities of using Energy Medicine as a drug-free therapeutic intervention for stress specifically in pregnancy.
But, clinical research studies have started to examine the integration of energy healing as a possible evidence-based intervention to minimizing the use of prescription drugs and reducing stress during pregnancy. Acupuncture, in particular, has made huge strides in being accepted by allopathic practitioners as a form of treatment during pregnancy, especially for supporting natural conception.
Conception can often be the first major stressor in the pregnancy journey. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports , that 7.5 million women between the ages of 15-44 are infertile. However, there is also a large percentage of women who are not classified as infertile but are still struggling with conceiving.
In a study  with a 40-year old husband and wife who were free of chronic disease, fertile, but not having success with conceiving naturally, Healing Touch (HT) was tested. HT is a non-invasive energy-field therapy rooted in setting a mindful intention for the highest good.  The couple had a great desire to conceive naturally, therefore they considered HT as a drug-free treatment plan. The mother-to-be came in for weekly appointments receiving the specifically the core star HT therapy technique. Core star HT therapy technique consists of the practitioner and the client co-participating in rebalancing the energy pattern associated with unresolved, previous energetic traumas that have negative effects on the client’s well-being.  Furthermore, the practitioner used positive affirmations from Louis Hay’s book: Heal your body.  Assisting the clients with finding more positive, healthful thought patterns is foundational to EH being effective. Affirmations such as, “I rejoice in my femaleness,” or “I love being a woman” were used. Two months later, the client was pregnant and carried a healthy full-term pregnancy. Another next energy healing study explores the use of EH, specifically Reiki, as a therapeutic intervention in stressed couples.
Reiki is similar HT, as it is also an energy field bodywork practice intended to reprogram the energy layers surrounding the human body.  Couples who are stressed are often referred to psychotherapy as a drug-free option. However, couple counseling has a low efficacy rate.  Thus, the use of Reiki––independently or complimentary with psychotherapy––may help to decrease the stress for the couple and improve the efficacy rates of psychotherapy. Reiki also helps couples reconnect, become more self-aware of their energy fields, in turn giving the couple coping tools beyond traditional talk therapy. Research shows  the possibility for Reiki to be used in couples who are stressed from conception, pregnancy expectation, pregnancy loss or high-risk pregnancy. Another study  using Reiki tested the effectiveness in reducing a pain in cesarean surgery, one of the highest forms of pain in a pregnancy.
Over 25% of mothers deliver their babies by caesarian section in North America and are typically offered opioids to cope with the intense pain.  However, due to the side effects of opioids such as contaminating the breast milk, Reiki may be a non-invasive approach to mediating the discomfort of a cesarean section and prevent such side effects as pharmaceutical contaminated breast milk.
In a study  of 80 pregnant women who just underwent elective caesarian sections were tested using three 20–minute treatments sessions, one the morning of the caesarian section and the other two the following day. The pain was measured by the participants subjectively via a numeric scale, and objectively via heart rate and blood pressure tests during both rest and movement three times a day for three days. This is the first pregnancy Reiki study designed with this level of rigor, however, the researchers found that adding Reiki to pain care for a caesarian section as not beneficial. Therefore, future research is needed to determine if Reiki is a capable treatment plan for reducing high-level physical pregnancy pain, such as a caesarian surgery. It is important to note that pain is difficult to measure and quantify in human nature, therefore this research question may always remain anecdotal. Another comprehensive study attempts to investigate the effects of EH, specifically using guided imagery.
Guided Imagery (GI) is a technique often used complementary with EH or independently. GI is when a person imagines and experiences an internal reality to find a deeper connection to mind-body-spirit health.6 A study  examined the effectiveness of GI in 19 high-risk, hospitalized pregnant women. The aim of the study was to reduce stress in pregnancy’s that have been labeled “high-risk” and to mediate possible negative health outcomes, such as premature uterine contractions or hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis dysfunction that may be a result from the psychological stress from the high-risk label.
The participants where all pregnancy’s that were between 20 and 34 weeks and being admitted to the hospital with anticipation of a preterm labor. Historically, pregnancy’s given this diagnosis often result in hospitalization until birth and often beyond delivery.  The participants were given an intervention of GI sessions for 20 minutes daily for 10 days. Stress was measured by each participant rating their stress numerically and through blood pressure tests before and after each GI session.
The findings confirmed that using GI with high-risk pregnancies, in fact, reduced both the maternal perception of stress and the physiological response (blood pressure) to stress. Furthermore, all participants documented at least one benefit every day that the intervention was a helpful coping strategy for stress. The most common documented comment was a feeling of being more relaxed. The blood pressure was an important finding too, as it quantifiable evidence that GI can help reduce hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis dysfunction. Other research continued the investigation of using GI for pregnancy by designing a study on the perception of GI for stress management in pregnant African American women.
The African American population was identified for this study because they are reported as having the highest levels of stress during pregnancy than any other racial group.  The study  consisted of study 36 pregnant women was conducted for 12-weeks beginning at the participants second trimester of pregnancy. The GI intervention included listening to GI daily and then recording a daily log of the frequency and perceived outcomes. Interviews were also conducted at the end of the study with the intention to gather deeper findings. Several themes emerged from the study.
Participants reported the following themes: ways of being (relaxed, calmer, peaceful), physiological benefits (improved sleep, breath awareness), connection with baby, stress management, and barriers to using GI (interruption). Barriers to using GI, were significant as it provides insight into previous research about African American’s having more stress than other racial groups, specifically during pregnancy. Interruptions in the participant’s daily lives existed in environmental, financial, and relationship issues. Several women reported livings in an unsafe neighborhood (gunshots, yelling, sirens), having frequent conflict with the father of their baby, and financial burden with necessities such as food and utilities. Nevertheless, most participants described GI as a safe space that offered a moment of relief from their daily stressors.
This evidence is significant because it answers the question that GI does improve perceived stress in the pregnant lives of African American women. Furthermore, it provides an evidence-based accessible resource to a stress-prone population, as GI is easy to implement and does not require a lot of money. In an interview with an anonymous energy healer who specializes in acupuncture for pregnancy, shares further evidence that EH can reduce stress and optimize the pregnancy journey.
The acupuncturist defines EH as, “An ancient form of energy medicine that works to balance the chi through the body’s meridian system.” Her clientele mostly consists of women trying to conceive, are pregnant, or are postpartum. However, the acupuncturist shared an observation that a new demographic is emerging: women seeking support to improve IVF results and women seeking care from a miscarriage. She also expressed that many women are seeking acupuncture as a more natural and less invasive treatment option than the typical conventional, pharmaceutical methods being offered in allopathic medicine.
She described EH as the human body having a balance in chi, which is the body’s vital life force. The goal of this form of energy medicine is to achieve balance through eliminating blockage to achieve, “Teng jr bu tong.” Teng represents pain and disease and bu tong represents blockage in your meridian energetic system. Therefore, she works with identifying pain/disease using the energetic meridian system to release blockage(s) and achieve flow of chi again, in turn reducing stress.
She also shared observations from her practice. First, she disclosed some typical imbalance patterns in her clients. Thyroid, adrenal and gut-health imbalance tended to be a frequent focus in her treatments. Furthermore, she expressed a loss of spiritual awakening in her clients. Therefore, in addition to identifying the appropriate acupressure points, she also implemented GI during treatments as another energetic intervention to encourage a higher sense of self for women in their pregnancy journey. However, she did express that not all clients are open to GI and perceived fearful of “going there.” This brief interview with and acupuncturist provides further evidence that EH modalities are a productive option for pregnancy, however more research is needed to continue to advance awareness and the willingness for women to try as a form of pregnancy care.
Although EH is not in mainstream allopathic medicine (yet!), clinical practice and research is steadily growing. As our world becomes more stressed, more women and couples are struggling in pregnancy. EH is rapidly growing in interest by both patient and practitioner as a possible modality for relieving the range of stressors in pregnancy. And although, a lot of the research is sparse or anecdotal, specifically with the pregnancy population, the positive experiences in practice are driving more patients to try it and thus more research projects to be conducted. However, it may be important to note, like any spiritual practices, there will also be a mysticism to EH work. Thus, research may always be somewhat anecdotal, as it a practice that cannot be fully seen, fully measured and comprehendible by the analytical mind. But rather it is a sacred healing modality that is to be felt and experienced be more than our physical being.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). Key statistics for the national survey of family growth. Retrieved from http://cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/infertility
Hay, L. (1984). Heal your body. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House Inc.
Jallo, N., Cozens, R., Smith, M., & Simpson, R. (2013). Effects of a guided imagery intervention on stress in hospitalized pregnant women. Holistic Nursing Practice, 129-139. doi:10.1097/HNO.0b013e31828b6270
Jallo, N., Salyer, J., Ruiz, J. R., & French, E. (2015). Perceptions of guided imagery for stress management in pregnant African American women. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 29, 249-254. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.apnu.2015.04.0040883-9417/
Kissinger, J. & Kaczarek, L. (2006). Healing touch and fertility: A case report. Journal of Perinatal Education, 15(2), 13-20. Doi: 10.1624/105812406X10771
Naparstek, B. (1994). Staying Well with Guided Imagery. New York, NY: Warner Books.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (2009). Reiki: In depth. Retrieved from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/reiki/introduction.htm
Stockham-Ronollo, S. & Poulsen, S. (2012). Couple therapy and Reiki: A holistic therapeutic integration. The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families, 20(3), 292-298. doi: 10.1177/1066480712449130
VanderVaart, S., Berger, H., Tam, C., Goh, I., Gijsen, V., De Wildt, S., et al. (2011). The effect of distant reiki on pain in women after elective Caesarian section: A double-blinded randomized controlled trail. BMJ Open, 1, 1-9. doi: 10.136/bmjopen-2010-000021