Midwives learn Shiatsu to help mums in labour

Shiatsu practitioner Justine Sipprell with Catherine Moore, Felix and Tabitha

The latest course aimed at enabling midwives to use Shiatsu techniques to help mums in labour has been enthusiastically received by nursing staff in Sussex – who also appreciate the
added bonus that it can help them reduce the stress of their jobs.

Shiatsu practitioner Justine Sipprell has just run a training course at The Royal Sussex Hospital in Brighton for midwives who chose to spend some of their budget on expanding their
knowledge of alternative therapies in childbirth, and is lined up for another at The Princess Royal in Haywards Heath.

Justine has provided Shiatsu treatments to a number of women during birth, with amazing results. These included helping a neighbour Catherine Moore who gave birth to her second
child, Felix, on the bathroom floor while waiting for an ambulance.

Justine also helped Catherine during the birth of her youngest child Tabitha. “The midwives said what I had done was like magic and they sang my praises to everyone!” she explained.

“I used her sacral points to relieve pain during the contractions and Gall Bladder 21 to deliver the placenta. This same GB21 point was excellent when Felix was born on the bathroom floor
as Catherine had no midwife there and was obviously concerned about delivering the placenta. The ambulance took a while to come and a midwife came even later. Catherine was advised to stay at home when she was pregnant with Tabitha as her labours are so quick.”

Justine also runs birth preparation classes for couples, training husbands how to use certain techniques to help their partners in labour. 

“My message to all pregnant women is – don’t rely on just one person during labour. Midwives are overworked and often have to rush off to deal with someone else. It’s important to have your partner or someone else with you who’s able to help and offer Shiatsu to aid relaxation and reduce the pain. If the midwife is also trained in this then she too can offer guidance.”

Some of the midwife units with which Justine works receive charitable trust funding which they are able to spend on alternative therapy training, but many hospitals don’t have such flexibility to choose how they spend their cash.

“The feedback from midwives has been incredible. The courses are aimed at enabling them to incorporate Shiatsu into their day-to-day practice and also help them learn ways of coping with their stressful 12-hour shifts. The three hour courses are very practical and include stretching and exercises to open their energy pathways or meridians. One point that came up from the midwives is that their training really lacks the hands on approach and that they felt that the Shiatsu training gave them confidence to be more hands on with the labouring women,” explained Justine.

She and her colleague Suzanne Yates, whose Bristol-based Well Mother practice specialises in treating women pre, post and after pregnancy as well as through the menopause, hope the popularity and success of the training courses will encourage other hospitals and health trusts to embrace Shiatsu as a pain relief and relaxation strategy during childbirth.

Suzanne has written a couple of books on the benefits of Shiatsu in pregnancy Beautiful Birth, for parents-to-be and Shiatsu for Midwives.

“At the moment Shiatsu is struggling to gain credibility in medical circles because it is not a mainstream therapy. Some NHS Trusts have invested in acupuncture in the past and Shiatsu is very similar in the way it works, only without the needles. Many members of the traditional medical profession have accepted the efficacy of acupuncture and although it is becoming increasingly understood we would like Shiatsu to be embraced more by the mainstream medical fraternity.” 

Based on traditional Chinese and Japanese approaches to health, women and midwives using Shiatsu say it can alleviate many of the chronic symptoms of pregnancy such as backache, insomnia and morning sickness. They say it can also help during labour and birth, as well as relieve postnatal problems such as heavy postpartum bleeding or difficulties with lactation. A Shiatsu treatment simply encourages the body to balance its own natural energy by gentle stimulation of its energy pathways, the meridians - the same pathways used in acupuncture. The age-old midwifery skills of touching and stroking are an intrinsic part of nurturing and cherishing - the essence of 'being with woman'.

A study, carried out following some Shiatsu teaching sessions Suzanne delivered to midwives at Bristol’s St Michael’s Hospital, has demonstrated that women who received Shiatsu treatments from their midwife during pregnancy were more likely to have a spontaneous labour, thereby significantly reducing the need for induction and consequently lowering Caesarean operations. 

The image above shows Shiatsu practitioner Justine Sipprell with Catherine Moore, Felix and Tabitha