by Dawn Balusik, AP, DOM
Published in Select Magazine, Mar-Apr 2009
Though, at first, you may not think to put acupuncture on your “to do” list when you find out you are pregnant, it is actually a valuable and natural way to help ensure a healthy pregnancy, a smooth delivery and a quick post-partum recovery.
Why Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine?
If we look back through Chinese history and the ancestral worship that is part of it, we see a very strong cultural commitment to have healthy children. As a result, throughout the centuries, Oriental Medicine has developed effective treatments to help couples conceive, and to promote healthy pregnancies and uncomplicated deliveries.
Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine focuses on re-establishing and maintaining a healthful natural balance and flow of vital energy (or Qi “chee”) within the body. Qi is the basis for the proper functioning of all of our organs and physiological processes, including reproduction: it provides structural integrity and stability, physiological efficiency and the potential for life, health and healing in general.
Qi circulates in pathways throughout the body, known as meridians. In Oriental Medicine, one is said to be in perfect health when this Qi is balanced and flowing unimpeded, in the correct direction and in an adequate amount throughout the body. When this energy becomes imbalanced, blocked or deficient, we experience pain, discomfort and disease.
Acupuncture needles, placed properly, directly access and regulate the flow of the energy in the meridians and correct imbalances, thereby creating healing and harmony within the body.
Acupuncture is a safe, effective and natural way for women to reduce their symptoms of pregnancy. Moreover, it does this without the risks and side-effects of pharmaceutical medications, most of which are contraindicated during pregnancy anyway.
Acupuncture for a Healthy Mother and Baby:
Acupuncture treatment once or twice a month during pregnancy is valuable for both mom and baby. It will help ensure optimal health of the mother and the fetus at different stages of development, cell differentiation and growth. It can also prevent and treat pregnancy-related symptoms.
One popular acu-point used during pregnancy is Zhubin (K-9) known as “the beautiful baby point”, located on the inner part of the lower leg above the ankle bone. It is said to calm the mind, relieve anxiety, build blood and benefit the fetus.
During the final 4 to 6 weeks of pregnancy, weekly treatments are recommended, to help prepare for labor. Typically, a session lasts 30 to 45 minutes, and women usually only feel a mild pressure or heaviness sensation at the site of the needle insertion.
Some women have pre-existing medical conditions that may worsen during pregnancy, but can be safely addressed with acupuncture. This is a great option when pharmaceuticals are contraindicated or the mother just wants treatment as natural as possible.
Acupuncture for Pregnancy-Related Symptoms:
Acupuncture significantly relieves fatigue, anxiety, migraine headaches, bleeding and, of course, the morning sickness that can be common during the first trimester. An Australian study published in the journal Birth reported that of nearly 600 women suffering with morning sickness, (all of whom were less than 14 weeks pregnant), those who received acupuncture treatment reported having less frequent and shorter periods of nausea than those who did not get acupuncture.
The second trimester can bring stress, sinus congestion, heartburn, constipation and hemorrhoids which acupuncture can help to alleviate. Other second trimester symptoms that acupuncture can assist are edema, elevated blood pressure, elevated blood glucose or excessive weight gain, but these conditions are potentially dangerous, and should also be monitored by a western-trained physician or midwife.
Sciatica, back pain, pelvic pain, joint pain and carpal tunnel syndrome can be common during the third trimester. Acupuncture treatment is known to bring relief to these symptoms, and it can bring this relief quickly, without any medications. In fact, a recent study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that acupuncture in combination with standard treatment was more effective at relieving mixed pelvic/back pain during pregnancy than standard treatment alone.
If symptoms are particularly severe, weekly treatments may be necessary to get you through a particular period of time during the pregnancy.
Beginning around 32 to 34 weeks, special acu-points will be included during treatment to encourage the proper head-down positioning of the baby for birth. Also at this time, acupuncture treatment frequency will increase to weekly to help optimize childbirth.
Acupuncture for Labor Induction & Childbirth:
For pregnancies that have gone beyond their due date, acupuncture is amazingly valuable to help induce a natural labor. A woman who is past her due date is facing either a Cesarean section or being induced with the drug pitocin. Neither of these are desirable options, as they present more risks and side-effects. Pitocin forces the body into labor whether it is ready or not.
Acupuncture is a great alternative. It is safe and encourages the body to go into a natural labor. Acu-points to induce labor are deliberately avoided during the 9 months of pregnancy, and are now used freely to encourage uterine contraction. Acupuncture for labor induction will also help to tonify the mother’s vital energy as well as calm her anxiety. This helps her to relax, which also facilitates a healthy delivery.
For labor induction, acu-points are used in the sacrum, hands, feet and shoulders. Electro-stimulation may be used on the needles to strengthen the treatment effect. Typically, treatment will aim at producing some contractions immediately. In my practice, daily acupuncture treatment for 3 to 5 days is usually sufficient to induce labor. Chinese herbal formulas may also be given to increase circulation in the pelvic area and to nourish the mother’s energy, which is needed for labor.
Acupuncture during labor itself is used to reduce pain and to boost energy, but can also be used to strengthen weak contractions. In China this is a common practice, because birth is seen as a natural process that is to be interfered with as little as possible; acupuncture facilitates the natural process, it doesn’t force anything to happen.
Acupuncture for Post-Partum Recovery:
After delivery, acupuncture assists the normal recuperative process. It can help stop bleeding and discharge, relieve backache and ease pain of the perineal area. It can also help to hasten recovery from a C-Section surgery. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine helps to restore the mother’s vital Qi energy and Blood, support milk production, and normalize the Qi and Blood flow through the abdomen. It is also ideal for preventing and treating post-partum depression. So, even though the new mom will be busy tending to her newborn, it is important that she still get her acupuncture treatments.
It is clear to see that all women would benefit from receiving acupuncture throughout their pregnancies. Acupuncture is valuable to ensure a healthy mother and fetus and to address pre-existing and pregnancy-related symptoms during pregnancy. It is also a wonderful alternative to pitocin or C-section for inducing labor. In addition, acupuncture can facilitate the labor process and assist in post-partum recovery.
Chao AS, Chao A, Wang TH, et al. Pain relief by applying transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) on acupuncture points during the first stage of labor: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Pain. 2007 Feb;127(3):214-20. View Abstract.
Crocker, Walt. Acupuncture May Be a Safe Alternative for Inducing Labor: Chinese Method Has Been Used Thousands of Years. Accessed on 5/25/08 from http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/19749/acupuncture_may_be_a_safe_alternative.html?page=2
Maciocia, Giovanni. Obstetrics and Gynecology in Oriental Medicine. Churchill Livingston, London, 1998.
Rabinowitz, Naomi, MD, Dipl.Ac., Acupuncture and Pregnancy, accessed on 5/25/08 at http://www.acufinder.com/Acupuncture+Information/Detail/ACUPUNCTURE+AND+PREGNANCY
Ring, Phyllis Edgerly. Acupuncture: Relief Right to the Point. Accessed on 5/25/08 from http://www.pregnancytoday.com/reference/articles/acupuncture.htm
Dawn Balusik, AP, DOM