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Acupuncture In Pregnancy

Acupuncture is a fantastic treatment option for pregnancy related conditions. It promotes your bodies own healing abilities and is proven to be safe in pregnancy - one of the most important aspects considering many medications, herbal supplements and even foods become limited during pregnancy. (1)

I have broken this blog down into specific conditions that I most commonly see in the clinic, but if you have any other issues that I haven't mentioned please don't hesitate to get in touch or book a consultation.

So what can acupuncture help with in pregnancy?

Because acupuncture is a complete healthcare model, we tend to be able to diagnose and therefore offer treatment for many Western Medical conditions.

In this post I'll outline:

  • Pain

  • Baby Positions and Induction

  • Morning Sickness, Odema, Milk Let Down, Post C-Section Scar

Pain

Pain is usually considered to be Qi and/or blood stagnation - i.e. blood flow and nerve conduction through muscles and joints is impaired by the sudden extra weight and fluid the body is carrying. Acupuncture stimulates the muscle chains and channels in the area of pain, improving Qi and blood flow, relieving pain - simple! The great news is that because pain in pregnancy usually hasn't been going on for long (max 9 months, as opposed to years of chronic pain), it often responds quickly to treatment.

Hip and back pain is caused by the extra weight and pressure caused by the baby at the front of the body. This can cause more curvature of the lumbar spine and therefore compress nerves and shorten/stiffen the muscles. I usually treat this with points around the outer knee and ankle. In private treatments, gentle massage and/or cupping may also be utilized to give instant relief.

Shoulder pain can be accentuated in pregancy, often tension in this area will be present before becoming pregnant. I have seen women with all sorts of odd sensations around the shoulder, from stabbing shooting pain, to hot, itchy, burning pain, to just an annoying constant ache. In treatment I often needle the shoulders and upper back locally with the patient on thier side. I also massage and cup the shoulders and treat with distal points in the arms and hands.

Pubic Symphysis Pain or "Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction" (SPD) is pain at the front of the pelvis on the pubic bone. The two pubic bones of the pelvis meet in the center and are connected by strong cartilage and ligaments. With the extra weight of the baby, this joint may become unstable and cause pain.

Acupuncture has been shown to manage this pain with the use of some fantastic points in the lower legs and locally around the back. In fact, in the study Effects of acupuncture and stabilizing exercises as adjunct to standard treatment in pregnant women with pelvic girdle pain: randomized single blind controlled trial, acupuncture was shown to be superior to stabilizing exercises for pain relief. (2)

Baby Positions and Overdue Pregnancies

Breech and posterior baby positions and overdue pregnancies can be stressful for the mother to be when the due date nears. Everyone wants the perfect birth, but its well known that complications during birth are more common if the babies position isn't quite right, or if they go overdue.

Baby position: Acupuncture treatment for breech baby position is probably one of the more well known and strange treatments that is used in acupuncture. The main point that's used to get the baby into the correct position no matter where they are is a point at the outer edge of the little toe at the corner of the nail. It is best stimulated with moxa, a form of heat therapy where the herb Mugwort is burned closely over the area to warm it. There are several research articles that report acupuncture and moxa to be beneficial for this (3,4,5). For more information on turning your baby, please take a look at www.spinningbabies.com for home exercises you can do to help.

Induction for overdue pregnancies: Recently, due to the great results I've seen in clinic, induction treatments are probably my favorite pregnancy treatments to do. There are 5 points that are contraindicated/should not be needled during pregnancy because, at least in the ancient days in China, they may cause abortion of the baby/bring on the period. This is most likely because the needles they used back then were a lot bigger, and therefore produced a stronger effect. However, these points become ideal when you want to promote birth at or around the due date.

The points are mainly near the ankles and hands, as well as at the lower back and top of the shoulder. All the points are easy to get to with the Mum to be lying on her side. This treatment encourages ripening of the cervix, relaxation of the muscles and produce a down bearing effect in the body.

Morning Sickness, Oedema, Milk Let Down, Post C-Section Scarring

Morning Sickness/Constant Nausea/Vomiting: There are a number of points indicated for nausea in pregnancy that settle 'rebellious Stomach Qi', the most well known one being P6 on the inside of the arm about 3 finger widths up from the wrist. As well as needling, I usually place press needles on other useful points that stay in place for several days so you can massage them at home. For other dietary and lifestyle tips to help settle nausea, have a look at renowned fertility and pregnancy acupuncturist Debra Betts' (who I was lucky enough to have as a tutor) post here.

Oedema: With the excess of fluids in the body during pregnancy, it often leaks into the 'interstitial spaces' - places between the tissues, between muscle and skin. In Chinese medicine, the Kidney, Lung and Spleen energy is responsible for moving fluids in the body, and keeping them in the right place. Points on these channels are needled and I often use moxa to warm and move fluids too. Gentle massage up these channels in the legs (a simple technique I can show you to do at home) also encourages fluid to move back to the heart, where it re-enters the blood stream and can be urinated off.

Milk Let Down: There are two main reasons for insufficient lactation in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The first is that there is not enough Qi/blood/energy in the mothers Spleen and Stomach and therefore she doesn't have enough nutrients to make milk. This may be due to poor diet during pregnancy (or inability to eat due to morning sickness), or a prolonged, exhausting labour where the bodies energy was used up. Here we use needles and moxa to aid the body in getting the most out of the diet, and in turn improving milk production.

The second reason from the TCM health model is that the Qi and blood that is in the body is simply stuck. This is described as Qi stagnation. Strong moving points in the hands and toes are used to freecourse the Qi in the body, and points around the shoulders and centre of the chest also help to get the milk moving.

C-Section Scar Healing: the incision made in a C-Section is a type of trauma to the body - skin, muscles, fascia and blood vessels are inevitably damaged. As with other types of injuries to the body, the Qi and blood at the site can become stagnant. Moxa and acupuncture can be used distally (away from the scar) in the first few weeks after birth and as the scar heals they are also used on the scar to smooth it and reduce scar tissue.

Ooh, so can you treat my...?

Acupuncture is a complete medical system, its just that it uses a different language to describe the body and a more holistic view of how the body works. Therefore any health condition can be mapped onto the TCM framework and diagnosed.

If you have any other pregnancy related conditions, please get in touch, or book a consultation. Alternatively you can visit me in the community clinic on Tuesdays 1-7pm to have a chat and/or a more affordable treatment.

References:

1. Park J, Sohn Y, White AR, Lee H. (2014). The safety of acupuncture during pregnancy: a systematic review. Acupuncture In Medicine. Pubmed.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24554789

2. Elden H, Ladfors L, Fagevik Olsen M, Ostgaard H, Hagberg H. (2005). Effects of acupuncture and stabilising exercises as adjunct to standard treatment in pregnant women with pelvic girdle pain: randomised single blind controlled trial. British Medical Journal. Pubmed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC555879/

3. Li X, Hu J, Wang X, Zhang H, Liu J. (2009) Moxibustion and other acupuncture point stimulation methods to treat breech presentation: a systematic review of clinical trials. Chin Med. Pubmed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19245719

4. Neri I, Airola G, Contu G, Allais G, Facchinetti F, Benedetto C. (2004). Acupuncture plus moxibustion to resolve breech presentation: a randomized controlled study. J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. Pubmed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15280133

5. Zhang QH1, Yue JH, Liu M, Sun ZR, Sun Q, Han C, Wang D. (2013). Moxibustion for the correction of nonvertex presentation: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. Pubmed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24159341

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