Getting to know your practitioner – Nicole McCowan, FGHG massage therapist

What do you love about your work as a remedial and pregnancy massage therapist?

I love being able to give women relief from any aches, pains or discomfort they have. I also absolutely adore when women lie down on the table and 9 times out of 10 there is an instant “Ähhhhhhhh” moment as they allow themselves to relax, knowing that the next 60-90 minutes is all about them and nurturing their bodies. Being a remedial and pregnancy massage therapist it’s my job be as caring, kind, compassionate and knowledgeable about the body as I can possibly be. Considering these are my favourite things to be in life, I truly think I have one of the best jobs in the world!

As well as being an aromatherapist and reiki practitioner, you teach feminine embodiment yoga. Would you like to tell us a bit about that?

Love to, it’s a massive passion of mine. Feminine Embodiment Yoga (FEY) is a specialised yoga practice uniquely celebrating the female form and flow. The practice allows you to strengthen your body through a combination of hatha yoga poses and rhythmic movements. It also has a strong focus on breath, balancing active and restorative poses and meditation. I love being a woman and learning about how unique our minds, emotions and bodies are, so when I discovered a yoga style specifically developed for women I couldn’t get enough and I enjoy sharing this practice with all women.

As a Practitioner, layering treatments with several modalities brings incredible results. For example, in a birth preparation massage the physical massage will work on an anatomical level, with the essential oils in the massage oil penetrating to a physiological level, add some reiki to reach the energetic level and once the massage is complete we the discuss home care and simple yoga postures and stretches that can work wonders to continue the birth preparation process.

Do you think women could benefit from feminine embodiment yoga during their fertility journey? How?

Definitely, Feminine Embodiment Yoga (FEY) focuses on relaxing the nervous system by releasing physical and emotional tension from the body. When the nervous system is relaxed your body goes from being in the ‘fight or flight’ mode (sympathetic nervous system) to “rest and digest”mode (parasympathetic nervous system) allowing your body to heal and restore itself.  The practice also targets specific areas of women’s bodies for greater engagement and toning. For example, in today’s society we do a lot of sitting at desks, in front of the TV, in the car, on transport etc. So FEY focuses on building strength in your legs, bottom and core, as well as stretching out the hips and pelvis, as these areas can become tight and locked. This is especially beneficial for fertility as it creates space and increases blood flow and nutrients to the area.

You support many women with massage on their journey through pregnancy and also post birth. What are some of the biggest challenges you see women going through physically and emotionally during these times?

It is an amazing privilege to be able to support women through this time of great transition as their bodies adapt and change to accommodate the next generation they are growing inside them. Exhaustion and fatigue are common challenges I see women facing during pregnancy and post birth. We live in a fast pace society and being the matriarch of the family comes with a never ending to do list, which you have just added “grow human” and/or “raise child” to the list! It’s important to get enough rest so your body and the baby has the best chance to grow and thrive. Getting a massage is amazing for this and I’m delighted when women come in to see me, having placed importance on putting themselves and their babies on top of their priority list. A massage helps relieve tension, headaches, body aches and pains, and cramping, to name a few. Massage for birth preparation is crucial to be in the most relaxed, rested and healthy state for the labour.

Post birth massage is essential to relieve the stress your body has gone through in labour and accelerate the healing process by releasing tense muscles which aids in moving lymph, fresh blood and nutrients around the body. It can be a challenge to find the time with a newborn to make it into the clinic so we recommend timing it just after a feed and then your gorgeous baby can sleep peacefully in their pram in the room while you receive a much needed massage. If they wake and cry it wouldn’t be the first time the awesome team on reception coo them back to sleep (it’s literally a pleasure and cuteness overload). If leaving the house still seems too hard (which it totally can be trying to time feed and sleep cycles) we offer home visit massages, we recommend you have someone at home with you to watch over baby so you can fully relax in the massage and receive as much nurturing as you give your bundle of joy.

How else can men and women benefit from massage?

Massage can benefit men and women in so many ways by increasing circulation, assisting detoxification, relieving tension and pain, reducing stress and anxiety, improving sleep, and boosting your immune system, just to name a few.

Massage also counteracts all the sitting we do which is an awesome benefit considering how many of us have office jobs equating to prolonged periods of sitting. All this sitting leads postural stress which most times manifests in the shoulders and neck. More advanced postural stress can show up as pain or weakness in the lower back and gluteals. More often than not after a massage I will have patients comment how they didn’t realise how tense they were or how tight a specific area was until it was massaged. It’s highly beneficial to have a regular massage, even just once a month, to check in with your body before any aches or pains become acute or chronic.

What part of your work has ever brought you to tears?

As much as I try, I can’t help the rush of emotion when I hear about the birth, see pictures of, or meet a baby of a mother I have been massaging during her pregnancy. Its humbling and special to be able to share the joys of watching their belly grow and feeling the baby move when they receive a massage in Mum’s tum. Knowing that I have been able to support the mother through massage, which may have helped them have a more relaxed and enjoyable pregnancy is just wonderful.

Learn more about Nicole McCowan, remedial massage therapist at Fertile Ground Health Group or make an appointment to have one of her fabulous massage treatments. Online Booking

Pregnancy Acupuncture 101

Ashley Gordon, FGHG Acupuncturist takes us through the basics of acupuncture during pregnancy and explains why it’s such a good idea.

Is it your first pregnancy? Maybe your second or third? Whichever is the case, when you are looking for pregnancy advice, if you Google it you will be inundated with pages of links and information overload. If you don’t have time to navigate the extensive library of information, here is a short spiel on pregnancy acupuncture, the best bits, to save you some time!

I’ve had many questions asked of me about acupuncture, but undoubtedly the most common is “Does it hurt?” and specifically for pregnancy acupuncture, “Is it safe?” The answer to the second question is YES, it is safe! The first question, is a bit more troublesome as it is based on an individual’s pain tolerance, which is subjective, but in general acupuncture doesn’t hurt. Sure, we are puncturing the skin with a needle, so there has to be an initial prick, but there should be no unwanted sensations after that. Some patients even fall asleep, or use the time to meditate while the needles are doing all the hard work for you!

The next most common question is “Is pregnancy acupuncture beneficial?” During the first trimester, it’s very commonly used to treat and alleviate symptoms such as nauseaheartburn and fatigue. Acupuncture aims to maintain health and restore balance within the energy flow of the body – this is crucial due to the multitude of amazing changes that occur during pregnancy. Not only do we need to give the body some credit for the incredible task it has ahead of it, but also give you as much assistance as we can to help the pregnancy move forward with ease and grace.

Equally as important as the first trimester is the third trimester. This time can be used to prepare the body for labour. This is all about blood flow, ensuring the body is well nourished and all of the key organs active in labour are supported and regulated – this is what is called birth preparation acupuncture.

But why is birth preparation acupuncture important, you ask?

Think of it as training. Would you front up to a marathon without any training? Probably not. The #1 reason for birth preparation treatments is to promote a smooth labour. Birth preparation acupuncture consists of a series of weekly treatments from 34-36 weeks onwards and can help to prepare the body for labour. Due to this preparation, your body will not be a stranger to acupuncture if used for labour promotion and will be more receptive to it’s effects. When the time arrives to assist in helping your baby engageincrease cervical ripening and dilation or strengthen contractions, acupuncture is here to help.

Here at Fertile Ground, not only do we have skilled acupuncturists, but we also have Naturopaths, massage therapists and Osteopaths to further assist you and your body throughout the incredible journey of pregnancy. It’s the wholistic approach that we love the most here at Fertile Ground and it would be our pleasure to help you on your way…

 

Ash Gordon colourAshley Gordon, FGHG Acupuncturist

Ashley is an experienced acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist who is passionate about utilising the innate healing qualities of the body in achieving the desired outcomes, be that in fertility, pregnancy or general health. He has developed a strong focus and passion for pregnancy, birth preparation and pre conception care, and is motivated by being apart of each individual journey and the emotional and physical changes of these experiences.

Tips for Good Posture During Pregnancy

By Ros Gilfillan, FGHG Remedial Massage Therapist

Pregnancy by its very nature creates new postural patterns as the body compensates for a change in weight and shape. On it’s own this can be totally manageable, but many pregnant women have pre-existing postural issues, developed long before pregnancy and will need additional exercises to minimise muscular aches, pain and long term consequences.

Most people spend each day repeating other postural patterns caused by the lifestyle they live, i.e. sitting or standing for long periods of time at work and time spent repeating limited movements in our daily life. But it’s the bad habits developed over a long period of time that can be detrimental to our general wellbeing, taking years to undo.

If you are more aware of your posture during pregnancy and take measures to stretch and strengthen your muscles, you can avoid long term postural issues that can develop during pregnancy.

What happens to your posture during pregnancy?

So many things happen to affect your posture during pregnancy! Here are just a few:

  • Your organs will go through some changes in shape, size and positioning in order to make room for the growing baby, ensuring that everything still functions adequately.
  • As you expand, your centre of gravity shifts and the orientation of your posture adjusts with a compensatory pattern.
  • Your ligaments soften during the gradual increase of load, which we hope is being beautifully cupped by the subtle spreading of your pelvis. All of this softening is what starts to alter the curvature of the spine through the rib section, the sway-back in the lower lumbar area and a more pronounced anterior (forward) tilt to the pelvis.
  • The second half of the pregnancy is probably when those niggling pains start to set in, where the back muscles shorten and the abdominal muscles lengthen with the pelvis tilting forward due to weakening of hips, gluts, and even the surrounding muscles of the shins. Sometimes this can lead to mums becoming ‘knock kneed’ and why addressing these changes early on with tailored strengthening exercise and stretching is essential.

What can be done to avoid problems with posture during pregnancy and beyond?

As difficult as it is to find lifestyle balance, just being a little mindful of the way we carry ourselves each day and by starting to incorporate good postural habits early, we can move through life avoiding a myriad of unpleasant conditions that can come back to haunt us later in life.

Stretching and strengthening exercises are so important to maintaining good posture; avoiding slouched shoulders, forward head and curvature of the thoracic and lumbar spine during pregnancy and in fact, all through life.

Stretching increases the range of motion and resting length of muscles while resistance exercise strengthens the integrity of the prime movers and their smaller assisting muscles, contributing to better posture. It’s important to try to make small adjustments to how you carry yourself daily and mix it up with some pilates, gentle yoga, swimming, or a brisk walk outside.

Massage during pregnancy can also assist by releasing some of the pressure on your posture as the baby grows. Offering relief for sore and aching muscles, it also helps to release tension in restricted muscles, lengthening them and increasing blood flow.  Everyone feels “ironed-out” after a good massage!

10 Posture improving tips you can start right now:

  1. Stand straight. Imagine a string attached in the middle of the top of your head that “the puppeteer” is pulling on upward.
  2. Try dropping shoulders naturally. If your head is first in the right position with your ear aligned with the centre of the shoulder at the AC joint, you will have no trouble dropping the shoulders.
  3. Gently pull in your abdomen. This will counteract the sway-back and pouched out belly stance.
  4. Activate your buttocks and pull inward. The centre of gravity should sit centred directly over your hips.
  5. Avoid locking your knees. Stand with knees at shoulder width and knees ever so slightly flexed. And try evenly speeding weight in your feet. Think of a triangle between the big toe, to the little toe and the centre of your heel with even distribution.
  6. Don’t stand for too long. Good blood circulation can become impeded. If you’re forced to stand. E.g. in a cue or on public transport, try to lift your knee and rotate your feet occasionally in circular motions.
  7. Sitting posture during pregnancy. Make sure your chair has a hard upright back, and place a small pillow across your lumbar back, positioning your feet squarely on the floor, and use a foot stool if necessary.
  8. Never cross your legs. This can cause circulation problems and varicose veins. Get up and walk frequently, and if sitting, use a foot stool and keep up the foot twirling exercise.
  9. Optimum sleeping position. Your body will let you know when to stop lying on your back. Side sleeping is best with a supportive pillow under your head and neck, and also between the knees. Some ladies also like to cuddle a pillow between their arms to square up the shoulders too. Sleeping on the left side is better for digestion, and enhances circulation to the placenta.
  10. When changing positions. Shift slowly, extending and using arms and bending knees to maintain your centre of gravity. Try activating the big dynamic muscles in your legs and buttocks.

If we consider the enormous change a pregnant woman’s body goes through during the gestation of a baby, you can understand why it is common for mums to get all kinds of pain, especially in the lower back.  With just a little awareness, some simple exercises and the occasional massage your posture will survive the pregnancy and be ready for the fun times ahead when the baby arrives!

 

Rosalyn Gilfillan colourRos Gilfillan is an experienced remedial massage therapist who enjoys working with a myriad of people from all backgrounds and ages. Her skills have been developed through treating conditions ranging from muscular, skeletal and postural issues, pre and post sports treatment for athletes and management of pain linked to injury, degenerative conditions and mental health.

Ros has also developed a special interest in working with women through their pregnancy journey and beyond. She considers the incredible changes in a woman’s body that accommodate and nourish the life of baby, to be both magical and a time that should be enjoyed given the right support system.

 

Getting to know your practitioner – Sonia Millett, FGHG acupuncturist

What inspired you to become an acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist, with a special interest in fertility and pregnancy?

Fertility, pregnancy and women’s health conditions are some of the most interesting and complex to treat, for this reason it has always drawn me – there are so many interesting aspects to consider, such as hormonal and emotional factors.

I love the challenges fertility issues present, and in particular the joy of hard-fought successes such as conceiving a baby after years of trying.  I also enjoy then treating  patients up until they give birth –  there is a real sense of completion and connection with the patient.

I first experienced the benefits of Chinese Medicine when my infant son did not gain weight and was diagnosed with ‘failure to thrive’, and was very unsettled. Several pediatricians were unable to provide a reason or a solution. Chinese Medicine, however, provided some notable improvements, and I was hooked.

What do you see as the strengths that acupuncture and Chinese Medicine (CM) have to offer in terms of fertility and reproductive support?

Fertility and pregnancy treatments are a major area of strength in Chinese Medicine as it fills a gap in conventional Western Medicine. This makes it a wonderful adjunct to medical treatments such as IVF.  If a pathology is not visible (eg in scans/to the eye) or does not show up in testing such as blood tests, Chinese Medicine excels. This is why Chinese Medicine can be effective with diagnoses such as ‘unexplained’ infertility, or for older patients. Traditional Chinese Medicine has a different diagnostic system and we can find a diagnosis (and therefore help treat) even when there is none in Western Medicine.

Chinese Medicine practitioners treat the individual, not the disease, and aim to strengthen underlying issues in the body.  The treatments are more patient- centred.

Also, Chinese Medicine is a holistic approach, supporting the OVERALL health and vitality of the body, as well as treating health issues directly. The principle aim of Chinese Medicine and acupuncture is to recover the equilibrium between the physical and emotional aspects of an individual, by treating the whole person. This is why we also provide lifestyle and dietary advice, and consider the emotional state of patients.

Patients often report they feel less stressed and more able to cope following acupuncture treatments, and we see this as a vital part of the treatment.

In your work you assist a lot of women on their journey to becoming pregnant, do you recommend they continue to see you after they have fallen pregnant? What does acupuncture and Chinese medicine have to offer during pregnancy?

Chinese Medicine is very useful throughout pregnancy. It offers a gentle approach to treatment without side-effects. It can help treat conditions such as nausea in early pregnancy, and any pain throughout the pregnancy. In late pregnancy, acupuncture can be used to prepare the patient for an on-time labour.

The benefits of treatment also extend to post-partum for issues such as poor milk supply and for a boost in energy when exhausted.

Your week tends to be very busy, what sort of self-care do you do to recharge outside of seeing patients?

I get lots of benefit from connecting with special friends, and possibly combining this with a walk. Also a regular yoga practice. I find that any practice that nourishes you emotionally as well as physically, has more far-reaching benefits. Whenever time permits, I also enjoy  acupuncture, kinesiology or massage treatments throughout the year.

I enjoy massage treatments primarily for stress relief, and acupuncture or kinesiology when I have a more acute condition that needs addressing such as pain.  I personally really enjoy kinesiology – it’s an eclectic mix of treatment approaches (and even incorporates some Chinese Medicine channel theory).

What are your top five tips for others to help maintain a healthy lifestyle?

  • Eat a nutritious diet with primarily fresh fruit and vegetables (no need to eat low fat foods) and get daily exercise (doesn’t need to be strenuous).
  • Make time for fun and nurture the special relationships in your life. Particularly important when going through challenging times such as when trying to conceive or with a new baby.
  • Find Gratitude – notice things in your life daily that you are grateful for
  • Get plenty of sleep, ideally within the hours of 11pm – 6.00am.
  • And of course have regular therapeutic treatments such as acupuncture, massage, naturopathy, kinesiology, to maintain health – after all, prevention is better than cure! CM is great as a preventative to help keep you in peak heath and manage stress.

Learn more about Sonia Millet on our practitioner page here: Sonia Millet, FGHG Acupuncturist

Pelvic Girdle Pain (PGP) during pregnancy

written by Pria Schwall-Kearney, FGHG Osteopath

Ouch! Pelvic Girdle Pain in pregnancy (PGP) is often referred to as ‘pelvic instability’ and affects somewhere between 20-50% of pregnancies. PGP causes mild to severe pain in the pelvis/low back that becomes worse with movement.  It’s a significant source of pain and restriction for many pregnant women – but what actually is it?

The Pelvic girdle consists of seven bones – the triangular sacrum at the back (literally ‘sacred bone’ in latin, due to its role in childbirth) and three paired bones that make up the ‘hips’ – the ilia, ischia and pubic bones. Together these bones work together to take the weight of the spine, transfer and distribute forces evenly throughout the body whilst walking, and accommodate to allow the growth and passage of a baby throughout pregnancy and childbirth.pelvis diagramThe pelvis has three joints – the two sacroiliac joints at the bottom of your back (accommodating for rotation and forward/backward bending), and the pubic symphysis, located at the very front of the pelvis. If you place your hand on this joint, you can feel it performing a small scissoring motion while you walk. It is the location of these three joints that most pelvic girdle pain is felt.

While it used to be thought that pelvic girdle pain was purely due to the hormonal effects of pregnancy, it is now understood to be a mix of the slight increase in movement available in these joints (due to the relaxed ligaments), and an increase in mechanical pressure on these joints.

Biomechanics in pregnancy are a topic on their own, but it is suffice to say that a woman’s posture changes early and rapidly when pregnant. The low back increases its arch, the pelvis widens, the ribs spread at the front  and the legs step further apart to provide an increased base of support. It’s a well oiled machine – until it isn’t!  Just like non-pregnant people, areas of increased muscular/ligamentous tension can develop, either due to stress, sedentary/computer posture, fatigue, or a slip or fall. However, in pregnancy the musculoskeletal system is working much closer to capacity and it can have difficulty compensating for these areas, which can lead to the pelvic girdle pain of pregnancy.

While the majority of cases of PGP go away after the baby is born, during pregnancy it can lead to significant pain and disability, with women having difficulty performing their daily activities. It can negatively impact fitness, flexibility and sleep, all of which have implications for childbirth and the postpartum period. So what can we do about it?

Strengthening exercises and use of supportive ‘sacroiliac belts’ have good reports. Osteopathic management of patients with PGP includes assessment of pelvic joints, bones, muscles and ligaments and uses a range of manual techniques to balance these tensions. We also look at the biomechanics of the surrounding areas, as well as giving advice on stretches, exercises and referrals to other providers as necessary.

Pelvic girdle pain is not something you can expect during pregnancy, however it is very common. If you think you might be experiencing this, take heart – there are things to be done. See a health professional about it and don’t just suffer through nine months of pain!

 

Pria colourA registered Osteopath and mother of two, Pria has become increasingly passionate about supporting women and their families through the intense family phase of life. She uses a wide range of techniques and loves nothing more than listening to the body with her hands and successfully working out what it’s trying to say! Always learning, she regularly undertakes postgraduate training. Previous training has been in areas such as in the treatment of pregnancy, postpartum women and cranial osteopathy and has completed a Certificate IV in breastfeeding counselling, regularly volunteering with the Australian Breastfeeding Association.  She has a clinical interest in headaches as well as women’s health, including dysmennorhoea and pregnancy/postpartum care – supporting women’s bodies to move well throughout the changes associated with this period.