Pregnancy and Acupuncture: A Good Thing?

The practice of acupuncture dates back 5,000 years. The Chinese, Egyptians, South African Bantu tribe, the Arabs and Eskimos all depended upon it to cure disease and cauterize wounds, using sharp stones, their own fingernails, lengths of bamboo, hot probes of metal, fish bones and tiny arrows. These days, disposable, thin needles the size of a human hair have replaced those primitive implements.

Americans consult acupuncturists about 5 million times per year. The use of acupuncture steadily increases among doctors, dentists and other health practitioners as an alternate to drug therapy or surgery.

The theory behind acupuncture is simple. It is based on a belief that a vital energy called “qi” (chee) flows through the body along pathways called “meridians.” Along these meridians are some 2,000 acupuncture points, where the thin needles are inserted to relieve symptoms, restore the balance and cure or prevent disease.

ACUPUNCTURE IN PREGNANCY

Acupuncture is used in pregnancy to benefit both mother and infant. The organ systems of a baby develop in a predictable, recognized order so long as nothing is wrong. But babies are vulnerable even in the womb. They may be assaulted by toxins in the mother’s blood, leaving them at risk of higher fevers in childhood, a higher frequency of illness, and increased bouts of eczema and diaper rash. Acupuncture treatments given once a month promote good health of mother and baby. During the last month, treatments once a week help both prepare for the upcoming birth. Most often, acupuncture causes no significant problems for mother or baby.

One ancient Chinese remedy promises a healthy and happy baby. Only one acupuncture point is used, and a single needle: thin and golden. Gold, because of its natural warmth, is believed to be especially efficacious. The acupuncture point used is called “Zhubin,” and is located just below the calf muscle and above the inner ankle bone. This especially significant point is said to be influential over a widespread area of the body. This point is also good for fear, anxiety, hypertension, nightmares and to relieve the symptoms of mental disorders.

Other acupuncture points used during pregnancy include:

“Zusanli”
Located four fingers above the kneecap, outer edge of tibia
Overall strengthening of the body, helps build blood and promote qi, reduces edema (water retention) and aids in digestion.
The point for diarrhea, indigestion, stomach pain and constipation

“Good Neiguan”
The “morning and motion sickness” point, located two fingers above the inner wrist.
Settles the stomach and relieves the mind
Relieves nausea and vomiting, insomnia and anxiety.

POINTS TO BE AVOIDED

Some acupuncture points are contraindicated during pregnancy. Points on the sacrum (a triangular bone made up of five fused vertebrae and forming the posterior section of the pelvis) should be avoided, as it may cause contractions. Also any point on the lower abdomen or the lower back should be used with extreme caution, as needles inserted there may penetrate too deeply, also causing contractions.

Other points that may cause contractions include:

“Sanyinjiao”
Three fingers above the inner ankle bones.

“Hegu”
On the top of the hand, in the web between the thumb and index finger.

RELIEF OF SYMPTOMS

An Australian study reported in the journal Birth revealed that of the 593 women studied, all less than 14 weeks pregnant, the women who received acupuncture treatment had fewer instances of nausea than those who received none, and the nausea was less intense, and this situation prevailed through the four weeks of the study.

Acupuncture can also help diverse ailments such as heartburn, hemorrhoids, and weight gain, as well as hypertension (high blood pressure). Sometimes, however, these may be caused by underlying complications, complicating things for the acupuncturist. Patients with these symptoms may be referred to other practitioners for treatment.

Some 30% of pregnant women in their third trimester experience lower back or pelvic pain. Its cause is not known, but it is thought to be strong hormones irritating muscles and ligaments. Acupuncture is helpful here, especially when combined with stabilizing exercises.

In the third trimester, the acupuncture therapist will be paying close attention to the positioning of the baby, to encourage the preferred “head down” presentation. In aid of this, the therapist may use a special type of acupuncture called “moxabustion.” Long sticks of the herb “moxa” are burned to produce heat and smoke. These sticks are held to a point in the small toe. This treatment may be used with patients who hate needles, or as a supplement to regular acupuncture. Moxabustion has a downside: it produces a pungent odor which for some pregnant women is intolerable.

Labor and birth

Acupuncture may be used during birth to start contractions or to help them along. It can relieve pain and raise the patient’s energy level. It works best if given as a series of one-hour treatments over 2-3 days preceding birth.

Postpartum depression

After birth, the new mother may experience postpartum depression, a debilitating condition that may interfere with the natural bonding between mother and child. Acupuncture can block the influences of years of “suboptimal” living and stress in the mother, as well as history of irregular menstrual periods.

Acupuncture has a light side, too. While treating a patient with the needles, the practitioner applied a light electrical charge to the needles. The machine immediately started singing “Happy Birthday!” No one could figure out how to turn it off, so it played through the entire procedure!

Although the excellent results associated with acupuncture have been known for thousands of years, some doctors today refuse to use it. They are wary, they say, because of the “litigious society we live in.”

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