Treating pregnant women is my favourite thing in clinic. I get to share in the magic of this amazing time and talk about things I can get pretty excited about, like giving birth and babies, and women often respond to acupuncture at this time really, really quickly. Since the birth of my own first babe I became hooked on all things birth, so this was a natural area for me to choose to focus my acupuncture practice and training.
Acupuncture is an ideal form of treatment as it offers women drug-free relief for many of the problems that can arise and take the sparkle & glow out of a pregnancy. Even conditions that are often considered a normal part of pregnancy, like morning sickness, sciatica and back pain, can be drastically improved increasing a woman’s quality of life and preventing these issues from becoming so serious they necessitate medical treatment.
Acupuncture is the insertion of super fine, disposable needles into particular points throughout the body. Within a Chinese Medicine framework, we talk about this facilitating the movement of vital substances, like qi and blood and the balance of yin and yang, to resolve issues and restore harmony to the body. From a biomedical perspective, there is still some magic and mystery surrounding the ‘how’ acupuncture works (personally I love that, but I also love that we have confirmed it’s effectiveness with an array of quality research in recent years). While we may not have nailed down the exact mechanism by which it works, we do know some of the effects it has upon the body as research has shown acupuncture can effect endorphin levels, influence hormones & neurotransmitters, relaxes muscles, reduces inflammation, & increases circulation. I think it’s pretty amazing that a few needles can do all that!
Given the broad ranging effects of acupuncture, its not surprising that it can assist with a wide range of the discomforts that can crop up in pregnancy. Pregnancy conditions that I commonly treat in the clinic include:
- morning sickness
- threatened miscarriage
- back, hip and pelvic pain & instability
- carpal tunnel
- depression & anxiety
- skin rashes and itching
- colds, flu & lowered immune system
- sinus congestion
- breech & posterior presentations
- labour induction
There are 3 things I see more than any other: Breech, Labour induction and Pre Birth or Birth preparation. Pre birth acupuncture is so awesome its going to get a post of its own next week so I won’t say much more about that here.
Breech babies and optimal fetal positioning are among the many things acupuncture can assist with. The unfortunate reality is that in our current birth culture women, are often not able to birth in their chosen place, or with their chosen care giver and support team, if their baby is not head down. Research indicates that babies in a breech position at 34 weeks, 50% will turn to a cephalic (head down) position with no intervention by the time labour commences. Research has shown that having a combo of some acupuncture and moxibustion increase this to 75% (Cardini & Weixin, 1998). This is a gentle, non invasive technique that significantly increases the chances of a breech baby turning head down for labour. Moxa is made from a beautiful herb,
Mugwort, that is burned to warm an area and increase vitality and enhance movement. Moxa is applied to the outer corner of the little toe (I mean seriously, who discovered that a point on your little toe could turn babies?) for 20 mins and simultaneously some acupuncture points are needled for optimal positioning. The treatment is then continued at home with self, or partner, application of moxa to the same point for for the next 10 days. Ideally in the situation of breech babies it is most effective to commence treatment at 34 to 35 weeks, but I regularly see women at later gestation. Obviously it gets a little squishy and there is a little less room to manoeuvre for the baby in those last weeks. During this 10 day period of daily moxa babies will generally get super wriggly and will often have a big somersault in to a head down position where they stay.
Of all the acupuncture treatments I do in clinic for pregnancy, labour inductions would be the most common. The World Health Organisation state that acupuncture for the induction of labour has been “proved through controlled trials to be an effective treatment”, this is pretty high praise as WHO are pretty rigorous with their endorsement of traditional medicines! Personally I think you should take the time nourish yourself and have a few pre birth treatments from 36 weeks that help to encourage all those beautiful birth hormones for an efficient labour which also make it less likely you will need an induction (more on that in my next post), but there are instances where this treatment is useful in helping women avoid medical inductions. While most babies will come when they are ready, sometimes there is pressure in the hospital system to birth your bub by a certain gestation and occasionally there are medical reasons a woman’s caregivers may want to move things along. Acupuncture can offer a good alternative to medical induction without associated increase fetal distress, epidiural use and the ensuing cascade of intervention associated with medical induction. This is a strong treatment, not gentle and relaxing, but it can really get things moving! It can take more than one treatment sometimes to get labour established, so I advise people to give themselves a few days. Needles are placed at various points on the body, usually the sacrum, the ankles and feet, hands and sometimes even the upper back. In this instance I go for a much stronger needling sensation than I usually aim for, lots of needle stimulation and it can feel like a very strong treatment. I then send women home with some instructions on how to do some simple acupressure for the next day or 2, and we schedule in a second treatment a couple of days later, just in case. During and after an induction treatment women usually experience lots of baby movement, and sometimes some contractions while the needles are in, and often contractions and some period like pain will ramp up over night. This will often progress into established labour, but if things settle down again we will do a second treatment to continue and build on the first in encouraging labour to commence.
Acupuncture has very broad applications in pregnancy, and is a very safe modality when performed by a fully trained, registered acupuncturist. So if anything crops up during your pregnancy that is detracting from your natural radiance, acupuncture may well be able to assist.