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Reiki and the Birth Experience

Originally from the Ontario Reiki Programme Centre
www.magma.ca/~peterz/index.htm - given to Angela Gorman, PRO, RFI by kind permission

This essay looks at impending parenthood and how a hands-on therapy called Reiki can be used to help improve the whole family's experience through pregnancy, delivery, and post-partum.

We begin by examining how Reiki is used to help deal with an issue common in all phases of pregnancy: the need to reduce pain. Unfortunately, pain sometimes plays a significant role in the mother's experience throughout, including foot and back pain in pregnancy, labour pains during delivery, and engorgement and sore nipples post-partum. Fortunately, Reiki can be used throughout to improve that experience.

After examining the application of Reiki to the unique aspects of pregnancy, labour, and the post-partum period, we look at this therapy in the context of caregiving, including how dad (as I will refer to the pregnant woman's caring partner) can participate more fully through providing care for mom and baby.

(Most published studies on Reiki have been done treating HIV/AIDS, chronic pain, and cancer. Pregnancy and childbirth - while not illnesses - can cause some of the same problems: pain, nausea, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping are all symptoms of these conditions, and are also often experienced during pregnancy, labour, and the post-partum period. We will update this paper with any new studies that relate specifically to pregnancy, labour, and post-partum application of Reiki, however where those are not available, studies that may relate from other contexts are quoted. )


The most common sources of pain in a pregnancy without complications are the back and feet. During labour, it is the labour itself, pressure between the baby and nerves in the lower back, and due to episiotomies or tearing. Post-partum, pain can come from engorgement, healing episiotomies or tearing, and painful nipples from nursing.

Back pain in pregnancy can be due to the increase in the mother's weight and its distribution, as well as due to increased muscle strain due to the hormonal changes affect on her pelvic ligaments. Complications may include such things as the mother having a condition that the pregnancy stresses (e.g., arthritis), which will exacerbate the problem. The figure[i] above shows the intensity of back pain on the McGill pain scale (which rates pain from 0-50 in increasing intensity). Back pain (chronic backache on this scale) can be moderately severe.

Labour pain is potentially quite a bit more severe, however even simple training in breathing techniques, relaxation and general understanding of what is likely to happen will reduce anxiety and pain (primiparas  - first birth) significantly (trained versus untrained in figure). Training that includes an effective relaxation and pain-reduction tool like Reiki will reduce perceived pain even further.

Jeri Mills, M.D., used Reiki for over 10 years in her OB/GYN practice and has documented her experiences in a book "Tapestry of Healing: Where Reiki and Medicine Intertwine." [ii]  She describes many cases, but summed it up with "Most women slept through the first half of labor, some slept through their entire labor with only Reiki for pain control." [iii]

Reiki is used in many programmes for pain management and reduction including in oncology, chronic pain, and palliative care clinics, including the NIH Hospital in Washington's Pain and Palliative Care Clinic[iv] - they use Reiki for severe pain including Fibromyalgia. There is anecdotal evidence that Reiki has been successfully used in the treatment of the pain associated with RSD ("causalgia")[v].


For some women, nausea accompanies pregnancy - usually worst during the first trimester, but sometimes throughout the pregnancy. There is a reasonable body of anecdotal evidence to support the use of Reiki to ease morning sickness. Dr. Usui's original healing guide[vi] identifies morning sickness as treatable using Reiki, and also states that treating the womb results in a healthy fetus and easy birth.

The Hartford Hospital in Hartford CT has been doing Reiki in their inpatient Gynecological Surgical unit in 1997[vii], now extended to other units. "From January through June of 2002 approximately 1,480 Reiki sessions were provided at Hartford Hospital...; Surveys show that Reiki (reduced) stress/anxiety an average of 94%, nausea 80%, pain 78%, and improved sleep 86%." [viii]

Dr. Beverly O'Brien & Margaret Mauro of the Perinatal Research Centre U of Alberta have just completed a study on the effect of Reiki on levels of anxiety in women undergoing diagnostic amniocentesis.[ix]  (Study is complete, but not published.)


Dr. Jeri Mills' experience on two important labour concerns, the difficulty and length of labour, and the need for C-sections:

  • "Besides helping with pain control in labor, Reiki seems to make people labour faster and deliver more easily." [x], and 
  • "Women who had previous caesarian sections for seven pound babies deemed too large to fit though their pelvis were having vaginal deliveries of nine and ten pound babies. My c-section rate declined from approximately 20% to 5%." [xi]

Some examples of hospital programmes are Dublin Maternity Hospital, which provides Reiki practitioners on-call[xii]; the Hallmark Health Corporation in NH[xiii] provides Reiki in hospital, along with other holistic aids for pain during childbirth.


Forty to 85 percent of women experience intense highs and lows as they adjust to life with a new baby. For about ten to fifteen percent of women and more than a fourth of all adolescent mothers, childbirth results in postnatal depression.[xiv] Causes include hormonal adjustment and the stress of being a full-time caregiver.

Sixty-one percent (61%) of "intense" family caregivers - those providing at least 21 hours of care a week - have suffered from depression[xv]. Mothers with newborns are generally not considered in these statistics, as the intent is people caring for the ill or infirm. However, the mother of any newborn provides far more care than 21 hours a week, and has the additional disruption to sleep, hormonal levels, and her other relationships to contend with. Caregiver stress and burnout assessments[xvi] list exhaustion, a sense of excessive responsibility, sleep disturbances, and emotional outbursts as signs of caregiver burnout. Care has to be taken for the new mother to avoid such a condition.

An early study[xvii] found that "Reiki is an effective modality for reducing ...;depression, and anxiety", and a recent review of Reiki practice in the US found that hospital "...;staff, patients, and program administrators report a number of benefits including reduced anxiety and ...;decreased numbers of self-reported common gerontological complaints such as anxiety, loneliness, insomnia, and pain...;" [xviii] (Anxiety, and loneliness are not restricted to gerontology.)

Infant Care

Infant care begins at the moment of birth, and Reiki can be used right away: "At New York's Continuum Center for Complementary Care, pediatrician Larry Palevsky, M.D., uses Reiki on babies and children. "I first began using it in the delivery room," Palevsky recalls. "If a newborn had good vital signs, but wasn't very responsive, instead of slapping him or her, which was the normal procedure, I would lay my hands on the infant for ten minutes or so and just watch him wake up. " Now, as a holistic pediatrician, Palevsky often performs Reiki on his pint-sized patients, who are highly responsive to it, he claims."[xix]

Using Reiki on infants is a lot like caring for anyone else - anxiety, sleep problems, pain (gas, colic) all affect infants and Reiki can be used with no contraindications. A study of "Gentle Healing Touch" (GHT) on preterm infants reported that: [xx] "There were significantly lower levels of active sleep, motor activity, and behavioral distress during GHT compared to (baseline) and (post-touch) phases. There were no differences among the 42 infants in the GHT group and 42 infants in a randomly assigned control group on any outcome variable including weight gain, morbidity status, or behavioral organization. The findings suggest that GHT generally is a safe and soothing type of touch to provide to young preterm infants, but that individual infant responses to touch need to be continuously monitored by NICU staff and parents."

In a further study performed using touch with premature infants in an intensive care situation, the author concluded that "touch promotes bonding and well-being and is therefore an essential therapy for the benefit of parents, babies, and health care professionals"[xxi] and noted in the published abstract that the study results had affected her own practice.

Partner Support

Many dads are looking for ways to get involved and to provide as much substantial support as possible through the pregnancy, birth, and of course with the new infant.  Reiki is a tool to allow him to provide that support.

There are significant stresses on the couple and their relationship imposed by an infant in the family; Reiki provides a tool that helps maintain intimacy and care in the relationship, while reducing stress and exhaustion for both partners[xxii].  In a qualitative study of five postpartum women who participated in therapeutic touch during home visits focused on postpartum issues and concerns, [xxiii] the women felt: relaxed, open, cared for, connected, and skeptical (presumably of the type of treatment). "Although it is unknown whether it was the visit, the interaction, or the therapeutic touch that helped the women feel cared for, the experience of participating in therapeutic touch seemed to add a dimension of mutual caring that added a special and unique quality to the home visit." (We feel that Reiki would provide the same quality, though it was not studied.) We suggest that the couple's post-partum relationship would benefit from their sharing the feelings described (with the possible exception of skepticism).

A Reiki-trained dad can

  • Treat himself, when he feels stressed or tired
  • Treat mom, during all stages of the pregnancy, labor, and afterwards, not only to help look after her health, but to remain connected with her (as new mothers do not always have the energy left to provide emotional connection to dad).
  • Trhe infant, for example if (s)he is upset or awake in the middle of the night. (Always consult a doctor first if there is any chance that the infant is unwell or injured.)

Reiki provides a beeat tnefit to the person giving the treatment, as well as to the recipient, so that dad's health and stress levels improve by helping mom and baby. Learning Reiki provides dads with a concrete tool that benefits the entire family.


Reiki therapy is safe and non-invasive. It is being used to facilitate relaxation and recovery, decrease anxiety and treat pain[xxiv] in hospices, nursing homes, emergency rooms, operating rooms, organ transplantation care units, pediatric, neonatal and OB/GYN units. Reiki can be used to help improve the whole family's experience through pregnancy, delivery, and post-partum. It has been shown to be useful in dealing with pain, including labour pains during delivery, can reduce stress and anxiety post-partum, and provides partners a tool to participate more fully through providing care for mom and baby.  Reiki can be provided by mom herself, her partner, and by health care professionals.

Acknowledgment: I am very grateful for the assistance of Jeri Mills M.D., who provided valuable input and guidance in the preparation of this document.

The Ontario Reiki Programme Centre is an Ontario not-for-profit corporation dedicated to providing Reiki programmes in health care centres. They provide presentations, training and treatments, and have a comprehensive website (at www.onreiki.com) of research on this non-invasive therapy. Therapists and teachers are registered with the Canadian Reiki Association. These articles are presented as part of our mandate to inform people who may benefit from Reiki that this therapy exists, and how it has been shown to apply. This material may be used to promote Reiki and Reiki programmes in health care centres so long as the material is used intact and includes the copyright and attribution.

Reiki is a complement to treatment by a physician. It does not provide services in lieu of a doctor, nor is it a medical diagnostic tool. However, there is a growing body of opinion that integrative medicine that takes advantage of all parts of the care spectrum as appropriate is more effective (and cost-effective) than allopathic treatment alone.

Author: Peter Zorzella, BASc, RT-CRA, founded the Ontario Reiki Programme Centre to make healing through Reiki available to everyone who could benefit from it. Peter is a registered teacher with the Canadian Reiki Association; in addition to the work associated with the Centre, he has a clinical practice South of Ottawa.




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