Hydrotherapy is one of the simplest health applications, and yet one of the most profound ways to improve health, including your fertility health. Since the beginning of recorded human history, hydrotherapy has been used for healing, across all cultures. Humans have a deep connection and history with water…
Who doesn’t love a nice soak in a hot bath at the end of a long day, or a dip in a cool pool on a hot day? It is widely recognized that water soothes the body and soul. What most people don’t realize is that there are a wide range of applications of water based healing from baths, to wet saunas, to compresses. The temperature of the water also plays a role in hydrotherapy, from hot, neutral or cold water, or a specific combination of hot and cold water known as contrast hydrotherapy.
I use hydrotherapy all the time, really, almost every day. I am lucky though, I live in a community abundant in hydrotherapy options, including the only natural hot springs vapor cave in North America, and one of the largest hot spring pools in the world. The Ute Indians visited the vapor caves and hot springs in the town I live in for centuries and regarded them as a sacred place for healing and rejuvenation. I have always lived in a community that has suggested and viewed hydrotherapy as a useful tool for healing. Even our family doctor recommends hydrotherapy for everything from sinus infections to sports injury recovery. Water is very important in my life, and because of this I chose to use hydrotherapy as a means to help me through childbirth and to help my children transition to this world through water birth. I love the comforting nature of water.
As a practitioner, I recommend all people consider the use of hydrotherapy, especially in times of high physical, mental and emotional stress and/or pain. Hydrotherapy is a safe and useful complementary healing tool that can be used to aid and enhance other therapies.
How Can Hydrotherapy Be Used for Improving Fertility?
Almost any form of hydrotherapy can be applied to reproductive health in some way. There are some applications that are exclusive to fertility health, while others are more generalized.
- Hot Water – Application of short term exposure to hot water increases blood flow (circulation) to the muscles and tissues by increasing vasodilation. Long term heat exposure induces sweat, promotes relaxation and drastically slows metabolism and circulation. This is why use of hot water is suggested in 10-15 minute intervals, at most.
Neutral Water – Aids skin absorption of water to help from recovery of dehydration.
Cold Water – Short exposure to cold increases circulation (less than one minute). Long exposure (longer than one minute) depresses circulation by contracting blood vessels and slows metabolism. Cold water application is suggested for use in shorter intervals.
Types of Hydrotherapy Applications
Hot baths induce sweat, one of the body’s natural detoxification systems and it is relaxing. Any water above 100 degrees Fahrenheit should only be utilized in 10-15 minute intervals, or as suggested by your healthcare practitioner. A hot bath is useful for people experiencing high emotional stress due to infertility, or the pressure of trying to conceive. Even those experiencing reproductive health issues can benefit from a relaxing bath.
A hot bath at the end of a long day, or period of high stress can be a form of meditation and can promote complete body relaxation, which is a great tool for managing stress. Finishing off a hot bath with a cold shower has been used for years to support a healthy immune system.
- Baths for Labor and Birth
A 2010 study published by Biological Research for Nursing showed that laboring women with high baseline pain who utilized hydrotherapy (immersion in a water bath) had reduced maternal anxiety and reduced cortisol levels, at 15 and 45 minute immersion. Researchers concluded that “Hydrotherapy during labor affects neuroendocrine responses that modify psychophysiological processes.”
As a mother who has experienced two water births, and as a labor doula, assisting women through childbirth, I can attest to the calming and pain lowering effects water submersion has on a laboring woman.
A compress is a cloth soaked in water, either hot or cold, or a combination of both, and then applied to a specific area of the body. For female reproductive health issues, this is a great application to do weekly. Simply apply the compress to the lower abdomen between the belly button and just above the pubic bone.
- Hot compresses increase circulation and relax the muscles and tissues where applied. Not recommended where inflammation is present, such as severe endometriosis.
- Cold compresses can help reduce inflammation and reduce pain. This application is great for women who are experiencing pain from endometriosis, large uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts or adenomyosis. Cold compresses may also be helpful for men with varicocele or epididymitis, when applied to the painful or swollen area for short amounts of time.
- A combination of hot and cold compresses can be applied in intervals to increase circulation and enhance gentle detoxification of the area applied. See directions below under contrast hydrotherapy to learn how to apply a contrast hydrotherapy compress to improve the health of a specific area of the body.
Contrast hydrotherapy is defined as the alternating of hot and cold water for short durations. This process produces a circulatory interchange, enhances natural detoxification and increases oxygen supply to the organs, muscles and skin. Contrast hydrotherapy should be finished with cold water to avoid leaving the body tissues engorged with blood, which may lead to more congestion of the area applied.
Directions for Contrast Hydrotherapy Compress:
What you will need:
- Two large pans or Pyrex bowls to hold water
- Two clean washcloths
- Large clean towel to lie on and to catch any water drips
- Warm blanket for the rest of your body – optional
1. Fill one pan with hot water (98-104 F°). Only use water that is bearable without burning or scalding your skin. Never use water above 104 F°. Place one of the washcloths in the pan.
2. Fill the other pan with cold water and ice (55-65 F°). Place the other washcloth in the pan.
3. Find a comfortable place to lie down, position the hot and cold water pans right next to where you will be laying down.
4. On your bare exposed lower abdomen lay the hot washcloth (wet, but not dripping). Allow to sit for 3 minutes. When time is up, place washcloth back in hot water.
5. Now apply the cold washcloth. Allow to sit for 1 minute. When time is up, place washcloth back in cold water.
6. Repeat this back and forth 6 times, ending with cold.
Vapor Bath or Wet Sauna
Allowing the body to bask in hot water vapor is a great tool for preconception detoxification as it induces sweat. We recommend using a sauna or hot baths to aid in elimination of toxins during the Fertility Cleanse. Be sure to replenish fluids internally by drinking cool water throughout your “sweat”. Every 10- 15 minutes take a cold shower or dip your head in cold water.
Traditional Vagina Steam
“Vagina Steam baths bring heat to the womb. The use of specific herbs adds layers of different healing benefits, depending on the fertility-related health condition being treated. Different herbs have different healing actions. Typically more than one herb was chosen and formulated in a blend, specific to the woman’s unique fertility needs. The combination of herbs work to nourish, tone, heal, bring in fresh oxygenated blood, promote cleansing, and make supple the vaginal and uterine tissues. The moist heat opens the pores of the the tissues it comes into contact with. The water vapor carries the medicinal benefits of the plants, including volatile oils. This is absorbed into the tissues and enters the bloodstream, having a direct healing effect on the reproductive system. Vaginal tissue is one of the most absorbent of the entire female body. Note: Do not use essential oils in your vagi-steam bath, this is because they may burn the delicate tissues of the genitals.”
Developed in the early 1980’s by Shiatsu practitioner Harold Dull, Watsu is a form of bodywork that combines traditional Shiatsu massage with the immersion of a person in warm water. The person is held and their body is massaged and manipulated while floating in water. This type of massage is designed to help decrease muscle tension, align the body structure and systems, increase mobility, reduce pain and stress. This therapy may be useful for people experiencing infertility related stress and depression, birth trauma, pelvic misalignment or pain. If you are interested in Watsu, we recommend booking an appointment with a WABA certified Watsu practitioner in your area.
Hydrotherapy for Fertility Related Issues:
- Infertility Related Stress
- Infertility Related Depression
- Trying to Conceive Blues
- Menstrual Cycle Discomfort
- Preconception Detoxification – men and women
- Female Reproductive Organ Health Issues
- Low Sperm Count and Motility
- Hormone Imbalance
- Labor and Birth – under the care of your doctor or midwife
Added Benefit – Aromatherapy, Herbs & Salts
Another thing that is absolutely lovely about water is that you can add herbs, essential oils, and natural salts (sea or epsom), to enhance the hydrotherapy experience. Specific herbs can support the healing of the body, so can essential oils. Natural salts can help provide the body with important trace minerals.
Ideas for how to include these in your hydrotherapy experience:
- Make a hot tea bath – Steep calendula, oats, lavender petals and yarrow tops in a large tea ball added to a large pan of just boiled water. Steep 15 minutes. Remove tea ball, add to bath, adjust temperature of bath water before getting in. Add cold water if needed.
- Blend 1 cup sea salts with some lavender petals and a couple drops of an essential oil of your choice, add to bath.
- Add a couple drops of clary sage essential oil to a hot compress on your abdomen.
Important Note of Caution for use of Hydrotherapy: Do not apply to broken or injured tissues. People with inflamed tissues should avoid hot application. People with cold intolerance or poor circulation should avoid cold application. Men with low sperm count should avoid long-term exposure to hot baths, as this has been shown to lower a man’s sperm count if utilized regularly.
Soak It Up!
If you have not thought of water as a healing tool and you are currently not using it in your life, I ask you to take the plunge – today! Share your experiences and questions about the use of hydrotherapy for fertility in the comments below!
1. DeLany, Judith (LMT). Hydrotherapy: Water, Water, Everywhere. Published in Massage Today, October, 2009, Vol. 9, Issue 10. Retrieved on December 1st, 2014 from: http://www.massagetoday.com/mpacms/mt/article.php?id=14098
2. Barton, Dalene (CH). Traditional Vagina Steam for Healthy Fertility, Retrieved on December 1st, 2014 from: http://natural-fertility-info.com/vagina-steam.html
4. Benfield RD1, Hortobágyi T, Tanner CJ, Swanson M, Heitkemper MM, Newton ER., The effects of hydrotherapy on anxiety, pain, neuroendocrine responses, and contraction dynamics during labor. Biological Research for Nursing. 2010 Jul;12(1):28-36. doi: 10.1177/1099800410361535. Epub 2010 May 7. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20453024
5. Andrew Weil, M.D. Wellness Therapies, Watsu retrieved on December 2, 2014 from http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART03102/Watsu.html
6. Balaskas, Janet. The Water Birth Book (2004). Thorsons.
7. Male Infertility Talk with Dr. Eric Yarnell, ND. March 9th, 2014.