Pregnancy can be a wonderful time, full of energy and joy, but sometimes problems threaten to spoil the full enjoyment of the event. Maybe everyone else is celebrating your pregnancy but morning sickness is making you feel like death warmed up. Or you are low and tired due to anaemia and the iron pills cause you constipation. Or headaches mount up and you don’t want to take your normal painkillers. Or everything has been great and then you go way past your due date and there is no sign of going into labour. These are all circumstances where acupuncture is a safe and gentle treatment that can make a difference.
Pregnancy causes rapid changes to the flow of Qi and Blood. The menstrual cycle and regular periods stop and Qi and Blood are diverted to support the growth and development of the foetus. This change in circulation has knock on effects elsewhere, especially on the flow of Stomach Qi. Stomach Qi usually flows downwards but a reversal of this flow, so called ‘rebellious Qi’, causes symptoms of heartburn, nausea or sickness. Acupuncture can restore the downward movement of Stomach Qi and relieve symptoms, but treatment may be needed every few days for a few weeks. In addition, acupuncture treatment will need to be adapted to each individual as there may be other imbalances contributing to the problem.
Anaemia is very common in women because of the regular monthly blood loss of periods and additional blood is needed in pregnancy to nourish the growing baby. Eating the right foods and getting plenty of rest help the body to make blood, but sometimes it needs a hand. Chinese medicine recognises the importance of blood but has a broader and somewhat different understanding of the strength and function of Blood (the capital letter indicates the Chinese medicine concept). There are particular acupuncture points that are effective in strengthening Blood, especially when acupuncture needling is combined with the herb Moxa. When it is burnt, Moxa is very nourishing to Blood and so before needling I may burn tiny cones of Moxa over the acupuncture points – don’t worry, it is much more pleasant than it sounds! Chinese medicine always considers emotional as well as physical causes, and stress, sadness or grief can all weaken our Blood. So as well as directly stimulating the body to make more or better Blood, acupuncture treatment would include talking about and treating any emotional upset or stress.
Sometimes, that baby is just too happy in the womb and doesn’t seem to want to come out! If all is well but you are overdue, then acupuncture is a very safe and pleasant way of encouraging labour to start. Some acupuncture points have the effect of moving Qi and Blood. These points are avoided during pregnancy but they can very usefully stimulate the womb to be more active when the time is right. In this situation I would insert the needles into points on the shoulder, hands and feet leave them in for about 20 minutes. Ideally, the treatment should be repeated every day. In between this acupuncture treatment you and your partner can use acupressure on the points a few times a day.
As always with acupuncture, the treatment can go on alongside other medical care – indeed in this circumstance your midwife’s care and advice is extremely important. And don’t forget acupuncture after the birth too – it can be very helpful in establishing breastfeeding and in recovering your physical and emotional strength and resilience.