Did you know…?
For over 3000 years Traditional Chinese Medicine has promoted specialised treatment for women in pregnancy care and postpartum recovery. Today this care is becoming increasingly popular and used by acupuncturists and specially trained midwives in countries such as Denmark, England, France, Germany, Holland, Norway, Sweden and New Zealand, where acupuncture is available in specialized antenatal clinics and maternity hospitals.
Pregnancy, childbirth and postnatal recovery are viewed in traditional Chinese medicine as a window of opportunity to enhance the woman’s well being. Conversely, if adequate care is not taken the resulting problems may continue long after birth. Promoting preventative care to strengthen the mother and baby, as well as dealing with problems as they occur during pregnancy is our main focus.
How does acupuncture work? It’s the placing of small needles in preset points across the body. Acupuncture targets the nervous system and the body’s other communication systems. It causes the body to release chemicals to either interrupt the signal of pain or provoke a cascade of other chemicals that invoke the bodies own healing abilities and self regulating system.
Is acupuncture safe during pregnancy? Yes. Qualified acupuncturists are trained to know which acupuncture points are helpful during pregnancy and which points should be avoided. In order to prevent the risk of infection of any form, only sterile disposable needles are used during acupuncture treatment. There are a number of good studies out, which have concluded that “There is no evidence within research of increased risks when acupuncture has been used to treat pregnant women”
When should you start and how often should you go? You can start as early as conception but in a healthy pregnancy you might start going regularly at around 12 weeks. In a healthy pregnancy, you may only need acupuncture every other week or once a month as a tune up to ensure that things are balanced and flowing smoothly. With certain conditions such as pre-eclampsia, threatened miscarriage and during the lead up to birth it is recommended to come at least once per week.
Does it hurt? Although people experience differing sensations with acupuncture most patients feel minimal discomfort as the needles are inserted and once the needles are in place its usually just incredibly relaxing. Acupuncture needles are as thin or thinner than a strand of human hair, so thin you can fit about 40 of them into a regular hypodermic needle.
There are some other therapies that will occasionally be recommended as an adjunct to acupuncture treatment. These are moxibustion, cupping and tui na.
Cupping: Cupping Therapy is the use of specialized cups that are made out of thick round lipped glass or durable thick plastic. Using these cups the practitioner creates a vacuum on the tissue usually in areas on the body that have a layer of muscle. This creates suction which secures the cup in place on the specific tissue leaving circular red marks on the skin that usually stay there for a few days, disappearing after approximately a week. The suction cup stays on the tissue for 5-20 minutes to get the full effect of the treatment. It has the effect of creating a relaxation of muscles and local tissues, breaking adhesions in the connective tissues around muscles which can therefore significantly improve the flexibility of tissue (ex. Shoulder muscles), breaking small capillaries in the skin promoting blood flow in the area and increasing healing to injured tissues, detoxifying tissues which have been chronically tight and inflexible and accelerating the effect of acupuncture treatment for pain
Tui na: the term tui na literally means pinch pull. It’s one of the earliest forms of bodywork and refers to a wide range of traditional Chinese medicine therapeutic massage and bodywork.
Moxibustion is an externally warming application of the single herb, mugwort, at acupoints on the body. The moxa that we will be using in clinic is smokeless. It’s quite a pleasant and warming treatment.
OTHER COMMON COMPLAINTS
Nausea and Vomiting: Acupuncture is often very effective in reducing both the severity and incidence of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. Research from Australia highlights that women receiving traditional acupuncture (where points were chosen according to an individual diagnosis) experienced faster relief when compared to those groups receiving routine prescribed points or “sham” acupuncture. This research also looked at the successful pregnancy outcomes for the women involved, concluding that “acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment for women who experience nausea and dry retching in early pregnancy” A further study on hyperemesis gravidaram found that acupuncture has a “rapid and obvious effect on hyperemesis gravidaram without any adverse reactions”
Threatened Miscarriage: For threatened miscarriage, we have a number of great points to calm down the uterus and prevent uterine contractions as well as working to moderate stress and promote good quality sleep all of which have been proven to be especially helpful. To make treatment more effective I generally treat twice within a week and then once a week until the pregnancy is safely established.
Pain: Pain of all sorts from back pain, rib pain, sciatica, pubic symphysis, neck and shoulder, carpal tunnel and even leg cramps are all common during pregnancy and can all be markedly reduced with acupuncture. A study done by the Cochrane database of 4093 women found that acupuncture significantly reduced pelvic and back pain more than usual care alone, that acupuncture was significantly more effective than exercise for reducing pain and was more effective than physiotherapy at relieving lumbo-pelvic pain and improving function. Generally, the earlier the acupuncture treatment begins in pregnancy the more effective the results. Depending on the patient, alternative treatment such as cupping or tuina may also be recommended.
Pre-eclampsia: Acupuncture can have an important role in assisting to reduce high blood pressure in pregnancy. When treated at the initial stages, positive changes such as reduction of uric acid to normal levels and stabilization of Liver enzymes as well as the more obvious signs of Blood pressure readings remaining within acceptable medical limits are clearly achievable with acupuncture, indicating that it can help the body to normalize and allow women to progress naturally through their pregnancy. Treatment works best done 1-2 times per week.
Breech: Research from Europe and China has shown acupuncture and moxibustion therapy to have a 60-90% efficacy rate of helping to turn breech babies. Acupuncture is aimed at increasing blood flow to the uterus to help allow for increased fetal mobility. While moxibustion increases adrenocortical stimulation thereby improving myometrial contractility and sensitivity leading to increased fetal motility. It also has a documented effect on the smooth muscles which effect uterine contractibility and on raising basal tone to aid in instigating the optimal fetal position. The ideal time for treatment is between 32-35 weeks when the baby still has a bit more room to move. 2 treatments are often all that’s necessary and the patient will be given a smokeless moxa stick with careful instructions for use to perform continued moxa at home. Techniques can also help babies that are not in the optimal position prior to birth, such as those in a posterior position.
Labour preparation or prebirth acupuncture: Three to four weeks prior to the due date women come in for treatment once per week for a treatment to prepare the body for birth. By balancing hormones, calming the sympathetic nervous system and improving blood flow to the reproductive organs, this series of treatments is beneficial to ripen her cervix and loosen up the ligaments of the pelvis and uterus as well as ramping up endorphins. We can also help women to prepare emotionally by calming any fears or anxiety that can lead to oxytocin being inhibited and birth being delayed. Research from Germany indicates the potential for a more efficient active stage of labour and a New Zealand study with midwives indicated a 31% reduction in epidural rates, a 32% reduction in emergency caesarean delivery, 35% reduction in the number of inductions and a 9% increase in normal vaginal birth.
Varicose veins, hemorrhoids, and vulval varicosities- There are a number of good acupuncture points that work to correct venous congestion in the pelvic area and providing smoother blood circulation. From a traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, varicose veins are the result of the Spleen failing to raise the Qi. The energetics of the Spleen is to hold and maintain the veins in their proper place. Most women will notice an improvement the day following treatment although it can take three treatments before a major effect is noticed.
Gestational Diabetes: In ancient China, diabetes was called the “emaciation-thirst (xiao ke) disease.” Chinese medicine focuses on treating the kidneys and supporting the spleen. The spleen affects the systems involved in digestion/absorption/metabolism, including the pancreas, gastrointestinal tract, liver, kidney, nerves, and gut hormones. Overall digestive/absorptive/metabolic function is called the “spleen-vital energy.” Vital energy functions when nutrients are digested, absorbed, and metabolized with the cooperation of blood circulation. Therefore, if there is no circulation of the blood, vital energy cannot function. If deficiency of the digestive/absorptive/metabolic function occurs, a circulatory disorder that is called blood stagnation, or blood stasis, will develop and will promote metabolic disorders, including a stabilized blood sugar level. Chinese medicine focuses on restoring proper blood circulation to correct any vital energy dysfunctions. The kidneys are treated because kidneys contain important physiological substances (yin). A couple of key symptoms for diabetes are excessive thirst and urination due to kidney yin deficiency. Yin deficiency and heat can consume energy (Qi) and fluids in the body, and even lead to a “thickening” of the blood. Therefore, patterns of disharmony, such as Qi deficiency, lead to symptoms of fatigue. And blood stasis leads to circulatory disorders and irregular water metabolism in the body. Acupuncture is used to reduce thirst, frequent urination, sugar cravings, and to balance the hormones and insulin levels. It focuses on restoring proper blood circulation to correct vital energy dysfunctions. Acupuncture also relieves stress and corrects disruptions in the flow of the body’s energy, returning the body to good health.
OTHER WAYS ACUPUNCTURE CAN HELP: Anaemia, Anxiety, Constipation, Heartburn, Carpal tunnel syndrome, Tiredness and exhaustion, Insomnia, Sinus problems, Stress relief, Thrush