Acupuncture and Pregnancy
Morning Sickness and Reflux
Morning sickness is one of the earliest signs of pregnancy, although not all women experience it. It can range from mild nausea to severe and frequent vomiting. It usually only lasts in the first trimester, but can extend throughout the pregnancy, and is not necessarily confined to just occurring in the morning.
From a Western standpoint, the exact cause of morning sickness is unclear, however, it is thought to be possibly a result of the effect of the hormones of pregnancy on the digestive system, fluctuations in blood pressure, or a change in carbohydrate metabolism that occurs when pregnant.
Chinese theory indicates that morning sickness is closely related to the digestive health of the mother prior to falling pregnant. It is seen as a relative imbalance of Qi and Blood in the channels of the body that affect the proper movement of food downward, resulting in the energy of the Stomach rebelling upwards, causing reflux or vomiting. Acupuncture treatments aim at re-establishing balance of the Qi and Blood, removing any ‘blockages’ that may cause Qi to move in the wrong direction (ie: upwards), and strengthening the mother’s digestive system to increase nutrition for both her and the baby.
Painful joints and muscles
As a pregnancy progresses, a certain amount of movement is required in the joints of the pregnant mother to make room for a larger baby and to prepare for labour. As the hormone ‘relaxin’ is released by the ovaries and placenta, it relaxes the ligaments of the pelvis and can also loosen up the ligaments of other joints in the body. This creates tension in the tendons and muscles that support the joints as the ligaments loosen up, resulting in muscular pain, typically of the lower and upper back, neck, and hip joints.
Acupuncture and massage geared specifically for pregnancy can be very helpful in alleviating pain in the joints and muscles and can help smooth the transition between trimesters, allowing your pregnant body to adjust more easily to the growing baby.
At the Maitland Wellness Centre, our acupuncturists and massage therapists are trained in pregnancy acupuncture and massage and are happy to discuss any concerns you may have regarding treatment in this very important time.
Oedema and Pre-Eclampsia
Swelling can occur in the mid to later stage of pregnancy, and can occur in the lower limbs, hands and arms and face. Oedema occurs when body fluids increase to nurture both you and your baby and accumulate in your tissues as a result of increased blood flow and pressure of your growing uterus on the pelvic veins. Gravity can then cause this fluid to flow downwards, creating swelling in the feet and ankles. While annoying and sometimes uncomfortable, this often clears up as soon as the baby arrives. Some women also experience swelling of the hands and face, which should be looked at by their GP.
Chinese Medicine suggests that swelling is caused by a malfunction of the body’s ability to metabolise fluids, either from an irregular diet, excessive work, or emotional stress. Acupuncture treatments aim to correct this imbalance, alleviating the swelling and reducing the discomfort, while also addressing the underlying cause of the fluid retention.
Swelling and oedema are very common and usually benign symptoms in pregnancy and are typically resolved as soon as the baby comes along, however, swelling can also sometime be an early sign of pre-eclampsia. Pre-eclampsia may develop at any time during the second half of pregnancy, but commonly develops during the later stages of pregnancy. Pre-eclampsia typically causes high blood pressure and protein in the urine, but can also have a large spectrum of effects and potentially involve most body organs. In its most severe forms, it can cause problems in the kidneys, liver, brain and blood. Some signs and symptoms of pre-eclampsia include dizziness, headaches, and nausea.
Western Medicine is still unclear as to the causes of pre-eclampsia, and we still can’t predict who would or wouldn’t suffer from pre-eclampsia, which is why regular check-ups in pregnancy are important.
Chinese Medicine indicates that the symptoms of pre-eclampsia such as dizziness and headaches can be as a result of overwork, irregular diet and emotional problems, which throw the body out of balance and create disturbances in the Yin and Yang of the mother’s body. Acupuncture treatments aim to rebalance Yin and Yang to achieve harmony between the two, resulting in the reduction or halting of dizziness, headaches and high blood pressure.
What can I expect?
Moxa is not painful, whilst the treatment is taking place you can expect to feel the acupuncture point become warm. The most common thing you will experience is movement of the baby. Almost all patients will feel a substantial amount of foetal movement during and even after the treatment.
How does it work?
There is no concrete Western Medical research on how Moxibustion works to turn a breech baby but it appears that by stimulating production of maternal hormones (placental oestrogens and prostaglandin), it encourages the lining of the uterus to contract, which in turn stimulates foetal activity. (Acupuncture & Pregnancy in Child birth, Zita West, 2002).
Are there any side effects?
Acupuncture and/or Moxa are considered to be very safe and side effect free treatments. All needles used are sterile and are unwrapped prior to treatment and disposed of immediately after treatment. The Moxa may at times become uncomfortably warm but this is easily adjusted and not detrimental. There are some contraindications to using Moxa on breech babies including twin pregnancies, previous caesarean for breech, raised blood pressure, bleeding in pregnancy and Rhesus negative blood.
Labour Preparation and Initiation
The end of pregnancy is often accompanied by a shift in the way the mother feels and symptoms she experiences. Reflux and sleeplessness can get worse, amongst other things, and expectant mothers start to feel ‘over it’. There are many avenues that you can take to help prepare for labour, including pre-natal yoga and meditation. Chinese Medicine suggests that at this stage of pregnancy it is most helpful to stay calm and relaxed and rest where possible. As this is not always possible in our busy lives, acupuncture can be a very helpful way to manage issues many expectant mothers experience such as anxiety and sleeplessness.
Acupuncture and massage are also extremely beneficial in preparing for a smooth transition into labour, as they are thought to stimulate the release of the hormone oxytocin, one of the key hormones of natural labour and delivery. Acupuncture is particularly useful for ‘ripening’ the cervix, helping to smooth the way into and through the stages of labour.
Treatments will vary according to what week the pregnancy is in, any complications to the pregnancy that may be present, and any concerns you may raise with the practitioner. Typically acupuncture points will be used on the hands, lower legs and lower back. Some practitioners may also massage or do cupping on the back and shoulders. You may also have some points in the ears stimulated, according to the theories of auricular acupuncture, that are very beneficial prior to and during the process of labour.
The treatment most commonly used in Chinese Medicine for correcting breech presentation is Moxibustion (Moxa). Moxa is a traditional Chinese herb (commonly known as Mugwort in the Western world) that is dried and rolled into sticks. These sticks are lit and held over acupuncture points on the little toes until a warming sensation is achieved. The initial treatment course is continued daily or twice daily for approximately 5 days (either at home or at the clinic). If the foetus has not turned the treatment will begin for another 5 days with a rest period between the treatments.
The best results for Moxa treatments are achieved if treatment is started during 32 and 35 weeks gestation, with most research showing the 34th week to be the optimal time. If treatment is started after this time or the foetus is particularly stubborn, acupuncture is often used in combination with moxa to strengthen the treatment. It is very important that the moxa is not over used and that the position of the foetus is continually monitored throughout the course of treatment.