In 2017, more and more of us are turning to the side effect-free world of acupuncture to tackle a myriad of health and wellbeing issues. Whether you approach it as complementary to western medicine – which many do – or choose to go down the holistic route entirely, the benefits of acupuncture have been widely documented.
I’ve written numerous features about the role of acupuncture when it comes to managing stress and anxiety and it’s becoming more and more popular as a treatment to ease the symptoms experienced by cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
One area that acupuncture is proving increasingly popular, however, is with pregnancy. From fertility and conception right through to the pregnancy itself, as well as life after labour, approaching this journey from an eastern perspective can be of great benefit to expectant parents. Here, acupuncturist and mum-to-be Hannah O’Connell chronicles the ways in which acupuncture can make a difference and how she works with her clients.
Fertility and getting ready to be pregnant
“In my clinic I use acupuncture to treat fertility issues of all kinds, either as a standalone treatment or to support IVF,” O’Connell says.
“This can be a very trying time for a woman and indeed her partner, who I often treat also. While acupuncture is helping with the physical process of conception, it is also looking after the mental and emotional health to create a feeling of support and calm which is paramount.”
From a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) perspective, the health of the parents at the time of conception translates directly to the quality of the child’s constitution, hence the importance of balancing and wellbeing prior to conception.
Traditionally, the nine-month period of pregnancy was a time for the parents to focus on nurturing the developing baby. The mother is physically and spiritually the vessel into which the foetus is placed, and so her state of health in every way is of the greatest importance.
According to TCM, the child will inherit ancestral Qi from the parents. Ancestral Qi is really an individual’s energy foundation; it cannot be changed and it is finite in amount. Stored in the kidney, its quality and quantity are determined by the Qi of both the mother and father (and the Qi of their respective ancestors); the nature of the mother’s pregnancy; and the time, place and circumstances of the child’s birth. This type of Qi determines the child’s basic physical and mental wellbeing and governs his or her growth and development.”
O’Connell’s advice is to look after yourselves (both partners) as you prepare for pregnancy. “It’s so important a mum makes sure her body is a healthy environment, making her pregnancy easier and optimising the baby’s health. This will also positively impact on the task of rebalancing, post pregnancy.”
O’Connell advises mothers-to-be to:
Reduce your stress
Cut back on your workload.
Sleep early in the evening and take naps when tired during the day.
Eat healthy foods such as in-season vegetables and hormone-free fruits when possible.
Avoid cold and raw foods.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
Eat more fish.
Choose good quality organic meat to avoid added hormones.
yoga, t’ai chi or mindfulness practice.
Visit an acupuncturist for treatment, dietary and lifestyle advice tailor-made for you.
“In TCM, making these changes is seen as gifting the child with a strong constitution and the foundation for a lifetime of good health,” she says.
With fertility issues garnering plenty of column inches,
it might seem as though once a woman has eventually become pregnant, the difficult part is behind her. Well, it is; the conception part. But that doesn’t mean it’s plain sailing from here on, though plenty of media portrayals suggest you’re about to embark on a “glowing”, nine-month journey of pure bliss.
For lots of women, however, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Pregnancy itself can bring a raft of difficult conditions from morning sickness – or the 24-hour presence of nausea – to acute migraines, digestive issues and more. Not to mention the exhaustion or the impact that carrying, especially in your third trimester, can have on your back.
Where those who aren’t pregnant can easily turn to over-the-counter medication with the onset of a headache or a bout of queasiness, there aren’t all that many options available to pregnant women, without the associated risks.
For those whose pregnancy turns their entire sense of wellbeing upside down, O’Connell aims to alleviate a lot of what may present itself.
“Acupuncture can often be the solution for many common complaints that crop up during pregnancy. When provided by a fully trained, registered practitioner, it is entirely safe for mum and baby. Some of the most common pregnancy-related conditions I treat in my clinic range from morning sickness (acupuncture points on the wrist are particularly good for easing nausea) and tiredness, difficulty sleeping and anxiety, constipation, pelvic pain and even varicose veins.
“When the joyous news of a positive pregnancy test is confirmed, I encourage mums-to-be to continue with their acupuncture treatment on a weekly basis for 12-16 weeks to ensure full-term pregnancy and ease any issues as mentioned above that arise in the first trimester,” O’Connell says. “From there, once a month is perfect, until 34 weeks, when I would see them back on a weekly basis for labour and birth preparation.”
Beyond the management of common complaints throughout pregnancy, acupuncture may also affect breech babies, O’Connell explains.
“Moxibustion is another treatment commonly practised by acupuncturists and has been used for many centuries to turn breech babies. The process uses a herb called moxa which is ‘compacted’ into a cigar-shaped stick, one end of which is lit and it’s slowly smoldered directly above an acupuncture point on the little toe.
“Research is ongoing but previous scientific studies have found promising results for the turning of breech babies; somewhere in the region of 80 per cent success rate. In my experience, provided there is room in there for the baby to move, breech presentation is corrected within 48 hours avoiding any further medical intervention,” O’Connell says.
After the birth
Congratulations. You’ve conceived, you’ve survived the pregnancy and now you welcome your little bundle of joy into the world.
Can we have a break now? Not so fast. Yes, you might be over the moon, but one thing’s for sure, you’ll be exhausted.
“Acupuncture is used by new mothers to increase energy levels and to promote healing” but it’s also a brilliant risk-free treatment when it comes to the “baby blues”, something many women experience after childbirth, and postnatal depression, which one in 10 mothers will struggle with. It is also very helpful in stimulating lactation and treating mastitis.
The best way to approach acupuncture is, O’Connell believes, to embark on a lifelong relationship with it, where its aim is to maintain and restore balance in your body through whatever life brings.
“Specifically, acupuncture is a fantastic preventative medicine and, as the old adage says, ‘prevention is better than cure’. My advice, when you find out you’re pregnant, may be invest in your pregnancy by contacting an acupuncturist to protect your health at this precious time,” she says.
“Being pregnant myself, I can confirm personally how helpful acupuncture can be at easing nausea, restoring sleep, easing early days’ anxiety and easing pelvic discomfort. I experienced all of these to varying degrees in the first trimester but all were short-lived once treated with acupuncture. Thankfully, I never experienced that acute tiredness with which the first trimester is often associated as I kept my weekly acupuncture regimen for the first trimester and I’m feeling great now.”