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TCM and Acupuncture in Pregnancy

Acupuncture can be used throughout pregnancy and post birth to aid many aliments and assist healing and recovery. In today's age women are expected to bounce back quickly, lose weight, have energy, libido, do housework, have a back to work plan and look after a new-born, along with any other children.

A Chinese medicine approach

Acupuncture can be used throughout pregnancy and post-birth to aid many ailments and assist in healing and recovery. In today’s age, women are expected to bounce back quickly, lose weight, have energy, libido, do housework, have a back to work plan and look after a new-born, along with any other children. If someone goes through a major surgery they are not expected to get up and get going, in fact, they are provided with a set of guidelines post-surgery for rest, recovery, and rebuilding. And, often others are helping, preparing meals, cleaning, and giving support where needed until the individual is back on his or her feet. Traditional Chinese medicine views pregnancy from the perspective of the essence, qi, and blood. This is a time to nourish the mother and fetus and to have at least six weeks post-birth recovery time, not doing anything strenuous and taxing to the Healthy Body so the women’s Healthy Body can heal properly. We need to take a lesson from the cultures who empathize support to the women and healing postpartum.

According to Chinese medicine, three organs play a critical role during pregnancy. The Spleen is the origin of birth and baby growth and development. The Kidneys store pre-Heaven essence, which the inherited essence is given by our parents that nourishes the fetus before birth. Pre-Heaven essence also controls sexual maturation, growth after birth, fertility and development. The third organ, the Liver, stores the blood and ensures the smooth flow of qi.

These are the areas focused on during treatment to ensure the overall health of the mother and baby.

During pregnancy, the Healthy Body is abundant in yin; the menstrual blood is transformed into milk and nutrients to help nourish the mother and fetus. The yin supports the nourishment, growth, and development of the fetus. The yang energy is forceful in nature and ramps up as labour approaches.

Labor is expected to begin when 3 things occur simultaneously:

  1. Yang activity replaces yin material growth.
  2. Qi flows freely and moves blood.
  3. The door of the uterus opens.

Acupuncture during pregnancy

Acupuncture can help with many syndromes, including but not limited to: haemorrhoids, morning sickness, fatigue, headaches, migraines, edema, carpal tunnel syndrome, sciatica, back pain, constipation, heartburn, breech, depression, anxiety (research shows up to 33% women experience clinical depression or anxiety disorder at some point during pregnancy), late labour.

Additional Recommendations for Morning Sickness

  • Eat small meals, never go hungry.
  • Sip lemon water through the day.
  • Take prenatal vitamins with food.
  • Herbal teas: lemon balm, ginger, peppermint. You will need to try them to feel what works for you because they have differing thermal temperatures; lemon balm and peppermint are cooling, while ginger is warming to hot.
  • Fennel seeds: chew on them or crush and steep to make tea.
  • Vitamin B complex
  • Acupressure band on the wrist (acupuncture point PC 6).

Breech Presentation

A breech baby is when the baby is facing the wrong direction for a vaginal birth, which may end up in a C-Section. Acupuncture and moxibustion (or moxa) are safe, non-invasive and European studies show 75% success rate in turning the baby. Moxibustion is a heat therapy using the plant mugwort, it comes in many forms, but for the purpose of a breech presentation, the moxa stick is used. Moxa sticks are dried mugwort made into a charcoal stick that resembles a cigar. Generally, a woman would come in once for demonstration and then moxa sticks and instructions are provided for homecare. The moxa does not touch the skin directly but is held near the skin using a specific “pecking” technique close to the acupuncture point on the lateral side of the baby toes (acupuncture point BL 67). This is done bilaterally for twenty minutes once a day for ten days. The ten-day treatment should be continued even if the baby turns early in the procedure but can be reduced to ten minutes bilaterally per day. This protocol is to be applied from week 32 to week 37 of pregnancy. Moxibustion is only to be used if there is a breech presentation.

Please note: Victoria does NOT offer this treatment for breech presentation past week 37 of pregnancy.

Labor Preparation ~ Pre-Birth treatments, Cervical Ripening.

As the end of pregnancy nears, the cervix normally becomes soft (ripe) and begins to open (dilate) and thin (efface), preparing for the birth. The baby also starts to move further into the pelvis and into position. The better the baby’s position and the more effaced the cervix is when the woman goes into labour, the faster and easier the labour tends to be. A ripe cervix facilitates a better birth, reduces the need for pain medication and lowers the risk of needing a caesarean section.

A New Zealand 2006 clinical study showed acupuncture pre-birth treatments resulted in:

  • 35% reduction in medical inductions (43% reduction with the first baby).
  • 31% reduction in epidurals.
  • 32% reduction in emergency caesarean
  • 9% increase in normal vaginal births

Acupuncture treatments commence week 36 or 37, once a week until delivery, as long as the baby’s head is down and not breech.

A standard set of acupuncture points are used to prepare the Healthy Body for birth.  Points can be added to deal with presenting problems, such as pregnancy-induced hypertension, heartburn, insomnia, shoulder pain, etc.

Additional Recommendations for Cervical Ripening

  • Evening Primrose Oil: starting week 38-39. 
  • Organic Raspberry Leaf tea: once per day week 38-39, and twice daily starting week 40.

Please note regarding Induction requests: Victoria does NOT offer induction treatments at week 40 or past week 40 if the cervix is closed and there were no pre-birth cervical ripening treatments prior to. We cannot go back in time. Acupuncture’s role is to help soften (ripen) the cervix in preparation for labour and is best starting at week 36-37. If the cervix has softened, effaced, and at least 1-4 cm dilation, and any membrane sweep(s) have been performed, acupuncture may take place, but it is less likely to induce labour. Again, starting cervical ripening treatment at week 36-37 is highly recommended.

During Labour ~ Acupressure 

The support team can do acupressure as labour starts straight through to post-delivery. You do not need any special training or anatomy knowledge to perform acupressure during labour. There are specific acupuncture points and techniques to apply pressure to using your knuckles and elbows. Debra Betts, an acupuncturist guru for pregnancy has graciously made this information available for free in printable PDFs and videos. Please visit this link for more information.

Acupuncture during the 4th Trimester ~ 6 Weeks Post Delivery

Low breast milk, depression, balance emotions, hemorrhoids, perineal discomfort and fear surrounding bowel movements, uterine prolapse, urinary incontinence, fatigue, mastitis, vaginal tearing during birth, diastasis recti (abdominal separation), low libido past eight weeks. If cesearian section: incision pain, numbness, scaring.

Post Pregnancy Tips

  • Rest, no sexual intercourse for 8 weeks.
  • Abdominal binding: day 2 after vaginal birth, day 6 after C-Section. 
  • Avoid drinking cold water & cold food.
  • No bathing or swimming (shower only).
  • Avoid draft and cold air.
  • No lifting heavy objects.

Avoid Cold Temperatures Post Birth

After giving birth, a woman has lost a lot of blood. In traditional Chinese medicine theory, blood and Qi, or vital life energy, are linked; the loss of blood leads to the loss of Qi. The mother is therefore weak and very vulnerable to catching a cold. At this time it is easy for cold to penetrate deep into the meridians or channels. This condition could later lead to symptoms such as pain in the muscles or joints, or a type of nerve pain. Where the pain develops is where the cold remained in the Healthy Body. Even during summer, a new mother would be advised to take care not to expose herself to very cold conditions.

Postpartum Care Support

It is important to have support people to help women post-childbirth. A support team that can help during this time, offering help, meals, cleaning, assistance, advice, guidance. Partner, family, friends, midwife, doula, lactation consultant, pelvic floor physiotherapist, other therapies, mental health counsellor, online or in-person groups.

Acupuncture Treatment Plan for Pregnancy

  • Once a week during the 1st trimester
  • Every 2-3 weeks during the 2nd and 3rd trimester
  • Labour preparation: Pre-birth/ cervical ripening, weekly from week 36 or 37.
  • Breech presentation: moxibustion home care week 32-37.
  • Postpartum: “mother warming” at home moxa stick, use day 4 or 5 after birth not sooner. This helps recovery and energy.
  • And then moxa as needed for two weeks. New Zealand midwives report moxa being helpful to build breast milk supply and also heal c-section scars.
  • Postpartum: ideal to have acupuncture once a week for three weeks starting two weeks post-birth, unless there is an issue in which case seek as soon as possible.