BY: JESS CLAYTON, M.AC., L.AC. – NOVEMBER 12, 2018 – ACUPUNCTURE
Morning sickness, back pain, headaches, pelvic pain and sleep disruption are just some of the symptoms that mom’s to be tend to face during their pregnancies. Even the easiest pregnancies can be hard on your body – I mean you are growing a human after all! Finding relief through Western medicine can be challenging. Many women choose to avoid taking medications during their pregnancies for minor ailments and as a result there has been an increase in alternative therapies. Studies show that acupuncture during pregnancy is very safe with few adversed effects and is an effective option when applied correctly by a licensed acupuncturist.
Acupuncture can be helpful for a wide variety of symptoms throughout your entire pregnancy as well as labor, delivery and postpartum care. As your pregnancy evolves, symptoms tend to change and evolve as well. Acupuncture can help with the following symptoms:
◊ First Trimester Symptoms:
During your first trimester, acupuncturists tend to focus treatments on creating a strong and stable foundation to nourish you and your baby for the next ongoing months of your pregnancy. Specific acu-points are used to strengthen the pregnancy, reduce the chances of miscarriage and help with the early pregnancy symptoms such as:
♦ Morning Sickness: About 70-80% of women experience nausea and vomiting in their first trimester, with 20% experiencing symptoms throughout their entire pregnancy. Acupuncture can be useful in relieving nausea and vomiting allowing for an increase in appetite and more comfort overall. Acupuncture is also a great tool for hyperemesis gravidarum which is a more severe form of morning sickness. Acupuncture can regulate the flow of energy throughout the body and stimulate the nerves and muscles near the stomach and abdomen that may be associated with morning sickness.
♦ Anxiety & Depression: Depression during pregnancy is common and affects nearly 1 in 4 women. A study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology looked at clinically depressed women who received acupuncture during their pregnancies and found that the severity of depression symptoms were decreased among 63%. Acupuncture, when used consistently, can rebalance and stabilize the hormones and sympathetic nervous system allowing for relaxation, grounding and calming of the nerves which not only benefits you but benefits baby as well.
♦ Headaches & Migraines: Pregnancy brings about a lot of hormonal shifts which can lead to headaches and migraines, especially throughout the first trimester. Acupuncture can stabilize the hormonal changes throughout the body decreasing the intensity, duration and occurrence of headaches and migraines. Research has shown that acupuncture can reduce the frequency of pregnancy induced headaches and women who received acupuncture used less medication.
♦ Acne: Many moms to be find that there is a shift in their complexions during the first trimester. Acupuncture can balance the chemicals and hormones to help to prevent or aid in healing the acne and in turn lead to less outbreaks and help your complexion to clear up faster.
♦ Fatigue: As your body is changing to prepare for continuing to carry a baby, fatigue is common. Your body is about to endure one of its hardest jobs – creating and sustaining a new life. Most mom’s continue working throughout their pregnancies and tend to carry around extra stress. This leads to mom’s experiencing even more fatigue as your body is working in overtime to get through the day. Regular acupuncture can increase your energy levels and reduce stress and fatigue. Plus an added benefit of acupuncture treatment is creating an allotted time for yourself throughout the early months of pregnancy.
♦ Support for Threatened Miscarriage: Acupuncture is known to aid in preventing miscarriage and although it is certainly not a guarantee, it can help if you have a had a previous history of miscarriage as well as it can help to stop any spotting or bleeding that you may experience throughout the early months of pregnancy.
◊ Second Trimester Symptoms:
During the second trimester, acupuncturists are focusing treatments on balancing hormones, creating a healthy endocrine system response that benefits baby, continue helping with symptoms above as well as some other symptoms that tend to pop up as your pregnancy progresses such as:
♦ Lower Back & Pelvic Pain: During pregnancy, back pain and pelvic pain are normal yet very uncomfortable occurrences that often there is not much solution for. Research has been published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology that shows that acupuncture can significantly reduce pain in the lower back and pelvis. The study showed that about 80% of women who received acupuncture in their late second and third trimesters showed clinically significant reduction in pain compared to 56% in the sham acupuncture group and only 36% in the group who received no treatment at all.
♦ Digestive Issues: The second trimester can bring on symptoms of heartburn, indigestion, acid reflux and feelings of fullness as your baby is growing. Acupuncture can help to regulate and settle the digestive tract. Treatment has also been shown to increase the body’s absorption of minerals and vitamins because the body is functioning more effectively overall. Combining this with the decrease in morning sickness can allow your body to retain more nutrients, minerals and vitamins which benefits not only you but the growth and development of baby as well.
♦ Nasal Congestion: A not well known symptom of pregnancy can be nasal congestion which is similar to having a cold but is once again a result of hormonal shifts. Higher levels of estrogen can cause the lining of the nasal passages to swell which causes an increase in mucus production. Women’s blood volume also doubles throughout pregnancy to ensure that the baby is getting enough blood and nutrients. Due to the increase in blood circulating, the tiny blood vessels in the nose can swell also leading to nasal congestion. Acupuncture is a great tool to be able to reduce the swelling and inflammation in the nasal passageways allowing for better breathing and less constriction.
♦ Boost Immune System Function: Mom’s immune system is not as strong during pregnancy because all of your body’s efforts are focused on protecting and growing the baby. This can lower your natural defense allowing for your immune system to be attacked easier by invading pathogens such as colds and flus. Having a strong immune system is crucial especially during pregnancy because the strength of your body is directly related to the strength of the baby’s immune system both inside and outside of the womb. Acupuncture has been directly proven to increase the count of white blood cells in the body which are the number one defense for the body. By enhancing your immune system with acupuncture will help to create a stronger protection against fighting off infections and diseases that could lead to extreme discomfort and a potential premature birth.
◊ Third Trimester Symptoms:
The third trimester is one of the most important times throughout your pregnancy to have acupuncture. Acupuncturists develop treatments during the third trimester that work to nourish and prepare your body for labor and delivery. In addition to continuing to help with the symptoms you may be experiencing above, your practitioner will also be working to ensure that labor begins at the right time and that your delivery is as smooth as possible. If you are going past your due date and there have not been complications throughout your pregnancy, your practitioner may discuss options in helping to induce labor. Other third trimester symptoms that may arise and be helped by acupuncture include:
♦ Overall Discomfort: Acupuncture increases the blood flow to the uterus which can help to nourish baby as well as to make pregnancy more comfortable. Part of this may be the fact that acupuncture treatment in and of itself is quite relaxing. For pregnant women this can be a very helpful as stress can be the cause of many complications and pregnancy symptoms. Increased stress can lead to increased musculoskeletal tightening which can cause discomfort throughout the body. This can lead to a lack of sleep, mood swings and increased anxiety which can also cause more physical discomfort then what you may already be experiencing. Acupuncturists often have other tips and tricks up their sleeves to help you deal with the physical discomforts of baby sitting low, extra weight gain causing heaviness and discomfort throughout your back and pelvis, insomnia and ability to get comfortable as well as other aches and pains you may be experiencing.
♦ Breech Baby: About 3-4% of pregnant women end up with a baby who is in breech position, meaning that the feet are pointed down instead of up, at term. About 90% of those babies are born by planned cesarean delivery. If your baby is breech, you may want to explore ways to help turn the baby to avoid a c-section. Western medical practice to turn a breech baby is typically an external cephalic version or ECV. ECV is when the medical team manually tries to move the baby from breech position. It is safe and frequently effective but it can be uncomfortable. Acupuncture along with moxibustion is well known for success in turning breech babies, can be gentler and quite relaxing in comparison. In fact, studies have shown that moxibustion alone or in combination with acupuncture treatment can increase the fetal activity which can help to turn the baby from a breech position to proper birthing position with about an 80% success rate. Using moxa to turn a breech baby is a great option to try prior to your doctor attempting an ECV as well as it has been reported that babies are more responsive to ECV when mom has been using acupuncture and moxa. Even if you have already tried ECV without success, moxa and acupuncture can be helpful.
♦ Preparing the Body for Labor & Delivery: Acupuncture points during the third trimester are chosen that help to relax and soften the uterine ligaments and bring blood flow into the pelvis. This will encourage the baby to descend into the birth canal in the proper position as well as preparing the cervix to soften and dilate. This can help to reduce the risk of Western medical intervention such as induction, cesarian delivery, forceps and epidural usage by helping the uterine muscles to effectively contract when needed at the appropriate time. By using acupuncture to tonify and nourish the body to prepare for labor, there is a chance for a faster and easier birth with the average delivery being 1.5 hours shorter. It has also been found that acupuncture could help you to tackle the pain associated with childbirth and promote a natural and easy delivery.
♦ Induction of Labor: If you are past your due date and looking for natural ways to induce, acupuncture could be your answer. Acupuncture for labor induction is safe for both the mother and baby as long as there are no serious complications with the pregnancy. Several studies show a success rate of up to 70% for induction. The treatment starts a hormonal process which stimulates the mother’s body to release prostaglandins and oxytocin – the natural hormone that Pitocin mimics. As a result this can be a much more gentle and natural process than Western medical induction. Acupuncture can help your baby engage into the birth canal, gently promote cervical softening and dilation and strengthen contractions. During labor, acupuncture can be used for pain relief, to boost the mother’s energy if labor is long, restart labor if it has slowed down or contractions have stopped and calm anxieties and frustrations which can often arise when a mother is past her due date.
Moxibustion on BL-67 can turn a baby from breech position to proper birthing position
◊ Post-Partum Care:
The benefits of acupuncture can continue after the baby has arrived. Acupuncture can be used by new mothers to increase energy levels, to recover faster with less complications and to combat any postpartum anxiety or depression. Continued treatment can help to facilitate milk production, help to treat mastitis, balance the huge hormonal transition and start to regulate the periods so that mom can start to feel like herself again. Acupuncture treatment after the baby is born will rebuild core qi and blood, boost immunity and reinvigorate digestion and metabolism. It is also a great hour that you can count on to have some self-care and time to yourself while you are getting adjusted to the new abundance of love and responsibility that you now have.
Many moms, including myself, have experienced the amazing benefits of acupuncture during and after their pregnancies. Acupuncture has been used in China for more than 2,000 years to reduce pain in labor, to augment or increase labor contractions as well as for other birth related reasons. Research has shown acupuncture to be completely safe during pregnancy as well as being extremely beneficial and effective for symptoms that otherwise have either no solution other than pharmacological solutions that may impact baby. Consider adding acupuncture to your pregnancy wellness plan today!