What is Reiki and does the evidence support its use in pregnancy?
If you are not already familiar with it, Reiki is a form of alternative medicine developed in 1922 by a Buddhist called Mikao Usui in Japan. Reiki may be considered as a form of faith healing – the practitioner uses the technique called “palm healing” or “hands-on healing” through which a universal energy, or qi, is allegedly transferred through the palms of the practitioner to the patient in order to encourage physical or emotional healing. However, so far there is no empirical evidence that such a life force exists and clinical research has not shown that Reiki is effective as a medical treatment for any medical condition.1 In fact, an 11-year old girl became the youngest person to publish a study in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association that demonstrated that Reiki practitioners could not detect the alleged ‘life force’ under experimental conditions.2
Very few studies have been published about Reiki use during pregnancy. One study conducted at Connecticut’s* Hartford Hospital found that Reiki used during pregnancy reduced anxiety by 94 percent, reduced nausea by 80 percent, reduced pain by 78 percent, and improved sleep by 86 percent.3 However, it should be noted that these outcomes can be easily influenced by the patient’s mindset – so if you think you are receiving a treatment, you may respond positively to it, whether you are actually receiving the treatment or not. This is also called the “placebo effect.” This seems to be harmless but, in many cases, you will be paying money -and sometimes quite a lot- for a Reiki session and, perhaps, you might be better off spending your money on something that has been proven to have a beneficial effect, such as massage.
Massage and pregnancy
Massage, as opposed to Reiki, has a lot more evidence to support its use during pregnancy. Studies have shown that massage therapy performed during pregnancy can relieve muscle aches and joint pains, reduce anxiety and decrease symptoms of depression. But, you might say, those are the same kind of endpoints mentioned above that can be easily influenced by the patient’s mindset. While that is true, there are also outcomes associated with massage that are more than likely not a placebo effect. These include labor outcomes and newborn health as well as laboratory outcomes such as reductions in levels of the stress hormones norepinephrine and cortisol as well as increases in levels of dopamine and serotonin, hormones that, at low levels, are associated with depression.
Massage has also been shown to help with swelling of joints during pregnancy and has been shown to improve sciatic nerve pain.
If you decide to undergo massage therapy, make sure you find a therapist who is certified in prenatal massage. They will know how to position you safely to avoid strain on your uterine ligaments and will be aware of symptoms that may indicate blood clots and varicose veins. You can undergo prenatal massage therapy at any point during your pregnancy. However, you should discuss massage therapy with your healthcare provider if you have experienced:
- Pre-term contractions
Or if you have:
- A high-risk pregnancy
- Pregnancy-induced hypertension/preeclampsia
- Experienced previous pre-term labor
- Severe swelling, high blood pressure, or sudden headaches
*It should be noted that I was unable to find the study’s original publication. In my personal opinion, this is another reason why its findings should be taken with a grain of salt!