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Meet the Northern Ireland reflexologist who these women say helped them to become pregnant

Sal Hanvey, from Co Down, talks to Una Brankin about the complementary therapies she offers, while three mothers explain how her treatments have improved their health

Sal Hanvey, right, and artist Lyzanne Bullen with her children, Lydia, Michael and Caleb
Sal Hanvey, right, and artist Lyzanne Bullen with her children, Lydia, Michael and Caleb
Family matters: midwife Emma Allen from Bangor with her daughter Hannah
Sophie Kiel with her husband Barry and her two kids, Heidi and Christian
Full support: alternative therapist Sal Hanvey

By Una Brankin

Long gone are the days when mothers-to-be had to grin and bear the occasionally unpleasant side-effects of pregnancy. A plethora of complementary therapies, from acupuncture and homeopathy, to hypnotherapy and "pregnancy massage" have become increasingly popular with both expectant mothers and women hoping to boost their chances of fertility.

Among the soothing rituals on offer, reflexology has emerged as the preferred choice for various celebrities. Holly Willoughby said the foot-focused therapy eased her water retention and made her feel "less sluggish" during her pregnancies, while fellow presenter Kirstie Allsopp swears by it for hyperemesis gravidarum, the extreme morning sickness that also afflicted the Duchess of Cambridge.

Singers Katherine Jenkins and Frankie Bridge, of The Saturdays, are also fans, the latter crediting reflexology sessions for taking down the swelling in her feet and ankles during both her pregnancies.

Local complementary therapist Sal Hanvey (38) has several mums-to-be attending her practice near Holywood, Co Down, and estimates that her reflexology sessions have helped "at least 100" more women on their journey to becoming pregnant.

"I don't like to take too much credit, but I'd describe what I do as a significant cog in an important wheel," she says in relation to reflexology for fertility. "Put simply, reflexology stimulates points on the foot that are linked with other parts of the body, which helps the blood and oxygen flow around the body.

"It has been shown to help restore balance to the endocrine glands that produce the body's natural hormones, which play a major role in fertility. If the hormones are balances, it stands to reason that conception will occur more readily.

"It works very well in conjunction with IVF, as does acupuncture, which I also do. Kate Winslet had acupuncture for IVF assisted pregnancy at the recommendation of Zita West (the celebrity midwife who was one of the first, in the 1980s, to offer the eastern therapy to her patients)."

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Stress-busting is one of the well-known benefits of reflexology, which various studies have shown to support the central nervous system in times of added strain, anxiety and worry, including pregnancy and maternity when the body's physical, emotional and hormonal balance is thrown out of whack.

Research has also shown that reflexology treatments in pregnancy can reduce labour time.

"Supporting the central nervous system is the fundamental basis of everything I do," says Sal. "Imbalances cause stress, anxiety, irritability, tension, low mood, insomnia - and all that constant mind chatter that comes with those issues.

"Reflexology is also very good for morning sickness and heartburn, sluggish bowel, lower back pain, hip and pelvic pain, and other stressors associated with pregnancy, such as the fear of miscarriage."

An accomplished singer/songwriter in her spare time, Sal is also a qualified nutritionist and is currently working on a cookbook for those with allergies and intolerances to various foods. She will present a cooking slot, on vegan dishes for meat eaters, on the local Belfast TV service NVTV (available on Freeview Channel 8 and Virgin 159) on June 11.

In the meantime, she is hosting a 'baby party' for a group of her happy clients at her Holywood home.

"My work is very rewarding - I see myself as facilitator helping to contribute towards an outcome," she concludes. "With fertility and pregnancy, it's all about helping to get the body prepared. The rest is down to our own natural rhythms."

For further information, see Sal Hanvey's website: www.naturalhealthni.co.uk Email: sal@naturalhealthni.co.uk Tel. 07801 476048

'It was great being able to talk to Sal, she is like a counsellor'

Artist Lyzanne Bullen (31) lives in Newtownabbey with her three children, Lydia (5), Michael (3) and one-year-old Caleb. Lyzanne is studying for a degree in psychology and plans to go on for a Master's degree in art therapy. She says:

I used to suffer from terrible anxiety - that's how I first came across Sal when I went to see her about that, around eight years ago. I got talking to her about the struggle to get pregnant with my ex and started doing reflexology to help with fertility.

It really helps with anxiety and stress; it's very relaxing.

When she started on my feet, Sal could tell me about an infection I hadn't mentioned and about a problem I have with my jaw which I hadn't told her about. So, she was also able to address that pain and tension.

In 2012, I had a round of IVF and got pregnant straight away. The reflexology helped me mentally cope with the stress of it, all the drugs and injections you have to have before it, and so on. It was great to being able to talk to Sal throughout it all; she is like a counsellor in a way. Very positive.

I continued on with the treatments and ended up getting pregnant naturally the second time. That was a big surprise! Sal helped with throughout that pregnancy, too, with various issues like morning sickness.

The third one was another very nice surprise. I have my hands full these days, but I'll be back for more reflexology when I get time. It has definitely helped me, mentally and physically."

See Lyzanne Bullen Artist on Facebook and www.painters-online.co.uk

'She became my angel when I was trying to conceive a second time'

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Sophie Kiel with her husband Barry and her two kids, Heidi and Christian
 

Yoga instructor Sophie Keil (29) lives in Dundonald with her husband Barry, an assistant director in the film and television industry, and their two children, Heidi (6) and Christian (3). Sophie has recently opened her own yoga studio, The Secret Haven, at her home in Dundonald. She says:

I'm a yoga teacher and fully trained in anatomy and physiology but what Sal does is magic. I met Sal seven or eight years ago through clients who had great results from her treatments and absolutely adored her. She became my absolute angel when I was trying to conceive for the second time.

She had already helped me through my first pregnancy with reflexology, helping balance my hormones and keeping my stress levels down. Then, for number two, I'd been trying to conceive for six months, which felt like a lifetime.

It was so stressful - my heart goes out to people who take long periods to conceive. I was all over the place when I went to Sal that second time. I had a 47-day menstrual cycle (as opposed to the usual 28), so I didn't know when I was ovulating.

My whole system was out of whack. I went to Sal for reflexology in the middle of that cycle and by the next one, I was back to a normal 28-day cycle.

I swear by Sal. What she does with the pressure points on the feet is magical. It stimulates the whole system. She has also helped me with anxiety, too. She's so caring; she genuinely wants you to get better.

I'd take a reflexology session over a facial or a massage any time. It's so very deeply relaxing. You're snuggled up in blankets with one foot out at a time. Sal and I chat while she's working on my right foot but stay quiet for the left.

She also did some induction reflexology on me to prepare for Christian's birth, and it was so easy. I was only four hours in labour and he was born 40 minutes after I went into the hospital. I can't recommend Sal highly enough."

See www.thesecrethaven.net

‘It’s a really good thing to do for your wellbeing in general’

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Family matters: midwife Emma Allen from Bangor with her daughter Hannah
 

Midwife Emma Campbell (39) lives in Bangor with her husband Chris, an obstetrician, and their baby daughter Hanna, who is almost two. Emma had a course of reflexology with Sal Hanvey in the run-up to Hanna's conception in 2016. She says:

We'd been trying to conceive for nine or 10 months. I was in my late 30s, so I knew the window was limited before having to try IVF. A colleague had used Sal and conceived very quickly, so I thought I'd try the reflexology. I'm a midwife and I found Sal very knowledgeable about the whole fertility process.

Sal was very positive. Her approach is all about realigning energies. She knows the points to work on your feet. There are so many points in the feet related to the body and she specifically works on those linked to the reproductive system, to help increase the blood flow to them and help clear any blockages.

I have a great belief in alternative therapies, and I took all my daily vitamins, was eating healthily and not drinking any alcohol. The reflexology was very beneficial both physically and mentally - it is a holistic approach to everything. It was very relaxing, and I got to know Sal well. I looked forward to going to see her to talk about life in general.

It all happened very fast for me. I started the reflexology halfway through a menstrual cycle and by the end of the second one I had conceived. Chris is more medically minded than me, but he was open to the idea of reflexology. He could see how relaxed it made me and encouraged me to do as much as possible before having to turn to fertility treatment.

During the pregnancy, I also had sessions for hyperemesis gravidarum - the constant nausea, vomiting and weight loss that Kate Middleton had when she was pregnant. But it went well, and Hanna was born healthy in June 2017.

I'd absolutely recommend reflexology to anyone trying to get pregnant. I know a couple of girls having it done in conjunction with IVF. It's a really good thing to do for your wellbeing in general."

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