ACUPUNCTURE FOR PREGNANCY SUPPORT
Chinese medicine has promoted specialised treatment for women during pregnancy and postpartum for over 3000 years. Today this care is becoming increasingly popular and used by acupuncturists and specially trained midwives all over the world. Pregnancy, childbirth, and postnatal recovery are viewed in Chinese medicine as ideal times to nurture a woman’s wellbeing to promote foetal and maternal health. Acupuncture is used to assist with a range of pregnancy related conditions, alleviating the discomfort that is often part of many pregnancies, and offering women an alternative to medication. Many integrative doctors, particularly those with a special focus on women’s health, fertility, and pregnancy, in fact recommend their clients to incorporate acupuncture as part of their pregnancy journeys.
As with any acupuncture treatment, it is important to ensure your practitioner is a registered provider however when it comes to pregnancy acupuncture, it is particularly important to ensure they are also experienced in treating pregnant women. There are several acupuncture points that should not be used in early stages of pregnancy and some that are only used for labour preparation or induction.
Though nausea during pregnancy is sometimes dismissed as a nuisance, it can be a significant concern for many women. Nausea or vomiting may occur at any time, day or night, and can interfere with quality of life - in some cases resulting in hospitalisation for rehydration therapy. In Chinese medicine nausea and vomiting can arise from a variety of causes. Treatment is typically aimed at strengthening and correcting underlying imbalances in the digestive system which can be very effective in reducing both the severity and incidence of nausea and vomiting.
Back pain, rib pain, sciatica, and pubic symphysis pain are common in pregnancy as the woman’s body adjusts to accommodate the growing baby. These pains can be significantly reduced with acupuncture.
Breech and posterior babies
Though breech babies, those positioned bottom first instead of head first, are common in the second trimester of pregnancy and often turn themselves before birth, some do not. A baby coming bottom first may have a more difficult birth or may require a caesarean section. Moxibustion is a type of Chinese medicine that (amongst other things) may be helpful in turning a breech baby. Moxibustion involves burning mugwort leaves close to the skin’s surface at specific acupuncture points. The New Zealand evidence based practice guidelines for care of women with breech presentation in fact recommends that moxibustion may be offered to women from 33 weeks gestation. Techniques can also help babies that are not in the optimal position prior to birth, such as those in a posterior position.
Three to four weeks prior to the due date specific acupuncture treatments are performed to prepare the pelvis and cervix for birth. Treatments encourage the baby to position itself into the best position for birth and relaxes the mother’s muscles and tendons. Research indicates that women who have undergone labour preparation treatments often have more efficient and active labours and reduced need for medical intervention, including medical induction and caesarean section.
Acupuncture can provide a gentle inducement to labour and can be an effective alternative to a medical induction for overdue babies. Rather than ‘forcing’ the body to do what it is not yet ready to, acupuncture encourages the natural flow of hormones involved in the progression of labour. Research has found that women who have received regular acupuncture in late pregnancy tend to have shorter active labour stages and tend to deliver closer to their due dates.
Pain relief during labour
Acupuncture and acupressure offers drug free alternatives for pain relief during labour. I love teaching labour support partners where and how to administer acupressure on their partners for pain relief and to encourage labour progression. I ask that support partners come to my clinic near the due date so I can show them where the points are located and demonstrate on them how much pressure they need to provide. I’ve had many partners later comment that they were grateful to have had an active role and a ‘job’ to do while their partner was in labour.
Other pregnancy concerns
Acupuncture treatment can also be used to help relieve a variety of other pregnancy conditions including: anxiety, constipation, carpal tunnel syndrome, heartburn, haemorrhoids, insomnia, oedema, headaches, sinus problems, threatened miscarriage, and fatigue.
Postnatal care is vitally important in Chinese medicine, a period known as the “sitting month” or the forty days after birth, where emphasis is on the woman’s rest and recovery. “Mother warming” treatments, include nourishing foods, strengthening and blood building herbs, acupuncture, and moxibustion to assist healing and circulation. Other conditions that can be helped by acupuncture include insufficient lactation, wound healing and scar tissue repair, postnatal depression and urinary incontinence.