Acupuncture for Pregnancy & LabourChristopher Michael Di Tecco R.Ac, R.TCMP February 1, 2007
Pregnancy can be both an exciting and intimidating time for a woman. Traditionally, Eastern philosophy stresses that pregnancy, labour, and the post-partum period is a time when a woman should take extra care of herself. Acupuncture and herbal medicine provide a safe and natural form of health care for a woman during this important stage in her life.
Well known for its excellent “preventive” capabilities, Chinese medicine has many treatment protocols and lifestyle strategies for maintaining good health throughout the various stages of life, ie: early childhood, menopause, and old age. The first documented records of acupuncture being used for labour preparation and induction come from the Jin Dynasty (AD 265-420).
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) maintains that a healthy pregnancy is dependent on adequate rest, a suitable diet and a calm emotional outlook. Expectant mothers should avoid pressure to maintain a busy and hectic lifestyle during pregnancy and instead focus their efforts on their health and well-being. Adequate rest and relaxation is essential for a woman’s health and the development of the fetus during pregnancy. It is important for a woman to rest before becoming exhausted, and in the later stages of pregnancy to set aside time during the day to rest, meditate or sleep.
A proper diet is very important during pregnancy. Pregnant women should eat nutritious and easily digestible foods. Healthy soups and stews, cooked vegetables and a variety of fruit are good choices. These foods are easier on the digestive system and require less energy to absorb. It is also recommended to avoid spicy, pungent and greasy foods during the course of pregnancy.
There are many changes physically and emotionally throughout a pregnancy, and there are a number of health concerns which are especially associated with pregnancy. The majority of these aliments are generally considered ‘normal occurrences’ because they are not easily alleviated with modern medicine. As many conventional pharmaceuticals cannot be used during pregnancy, this is a time when complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, are especially helpful. Acupuncture is ideally suited to treat the symptoms that arise because it does not introduce any substance into the body.
ACUPUNCTURE AS A ROUTINE PRE-BIRTH TREATMENT
Acupuncture and TCM can provide physical and emotional support to a woman during labour, birth and the immediate postpartum period. The effects of support are: reduced time in labour, fewer complications, reduced caesarean rates, less need for synthetic oxytocin to speed up labour, and women request less pain medications and epidurals. As a result there is greater satisfaction with the mother’s birth experience.
Pre-birth acupuncture refers to a series of treatments in the final weeks of pregnancy to prepare women for childbirth. Research in Germany has suggested pre-birth acupuncture treatments can reduce the duration of labour by over two hours. Midwives using the acupuncture protocol have reported their patients also have a reduced rate of medical intervention during the birth (intervention includes labour induction, epidural and emergency caesarean section). Midwives in New Zealand have also been using acupuncture as a pre-birth protocol since 1997 and have noted similar positive results.
Acupuncture treatments before birth are aimed at helping the woman’s body prepare for the birth, with emphasis on preparing the cervix and pelvis for labour. The acupuncture points that are selected for the pre-birth treatments boost the energy and nourish the blood in the body, soften the ligaments and tendons prior to labour, and aid in cervical dilation. Other points can be added to the treatment to help address medical conditions associated with pregnancy such as hypertension, heartburn, insomnia and hemorrhoids.
An expectant mother would generally attend one treatment per week for three to four weeks prior to the expected date of delivery. Depending on the patient, more frequent visits may be recommended. There are also acupuncture protocols for labour induction and those points can be added to the pre-birth treatment if necessary. In the event of a delayed labour, treatments can be performed daily until the woman goes into labour.
In many Western countries breech presentation is an indication for elective Cesarean section. In order to correct breech presentation, the stimulation of an acupuncture point on the baby toe can be performed. The treatment is quite simple and involves heating an acupuncture point on the baby toe with a Chinese herb called moxibustion for a few minutes a day for up to several days prior to delivery. The treatment increases fetal activity and can cause the baby to turn into proper position for a natural birth. This treatment method has a long history of providing a successful option for women who would prefer a natural birth.
Many physical and emotional demands are placed on the mother throughout her labour, and a woman’s body generally makes its recovery in the six weeks after the birth of the baby. It is during this period of time after birth that the close bonds between newborns and their parents are formed. Although this is a special time for new mothers, sometimes the birthing process can be hard on the mother’s body and symptoms may appear or persist throughout this time. Acupuncture can help replenish and restore the balance in a woman’s body and is effective in treating postpartum conditions such as: postpartum depression, insufficient breast milk or milk not flowing, incontinence and hemorrhoids.
After childbirth, there are commonly prescribed formulas of Chinese herbs which are taken for a few days to boost the energy and blood of the new mother as well as ensure the complete discharge of any placental fragments which remain in the uterus during the post partum period. If placental fragments are not fully discharged, the circulation of blood and energy in the uterus will be inhibited. Poor circulation in the uterus can lead to gynecological problems in the future such as dysmenorrhoea and pain in the lower abdomen.
As with all “alternative” therapies, prospective patients should do their homework when looking for a TCM practitioner. It is important to make sure the practitioner has been properly trained in TCM for pregancy and labour, and has the proper credentials (has attended a recognized TCM school) and is currently a member of a professional acupuncture association. You can always ask to see their credentials to make certain they are are affiliated with a recognized association.