Part 1 – Early pregnancy
Congratulations, you’re pregnant! While you might be thrilled to bits, you might not yet be experiencing that “glow” everyone talks about. In fact you might be feeling distinctly unglowing! Some women breeze through this stage of pregnancy but many find their energy is at rock bottom and they experience anything from “morning sickness” to all-day queasiness to outright nausea and vomiting. You may also feel anxious about the weeks and months to come, especially if you’ve previously had fertility struggles or a miscarriage.
The good news is that acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can help with many of these conditions.
You might be wondering if acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine are safe in pregnancy. The answer is a resounding “Yes”, as long as given by a qualified practitioner who has been trained in the points and herbs to use during pregnancy and those to avoid.
Quell nausea naturally
Some researchers think that the heightened sense of smell and aversion to anything but the blandest of food could be part of an evolutionary mechanism to protect the embryo from food poisoning. Perhaps pregnancy hormones boost our sense of smell to protect us from consuming food that has gone off or would be harmful in another way. This certainly seems to make sense given that we did not have fridges for most of our evolutionary history!
Some women experience disabling nausea to the point where they can barely get out of bed and their diet becomes very restricted. If you are finding it hard to cope with morning sickness, acupuncture can be very useful. Unfortunately this has not yet been well proven by medical research. However, one study looked at 88 women with morning sickness who received either acupuncture plus acupressure or medication plus vitamin B12. The women who had acupuncture/acupressure had similar relief to those who took medication. Although it took longer to gain this improvement, the acupuncture group were actually better able to function in everyday life than those who took the drugs.
Boost your energy levels
Feeling extremely tired in early pregnancy may be another evolutionary adaptation, as it encourages us to rest during this time. That being said, if you are completely wiped out and unable to get out of bed, then treatment is a good idea.
I find acupuncture very helpful in gently boosting energy levels in early pregnancy. Treatments concentrate on boosting energy production by working on specific meridians (energy pathways) and organs, depending on your symptoms, pulse and tongue pattern. In this way, treatments are tailored to suit your individual circumstances. As well as very gentle needling, we warm key points on the body by applying a herb (moxibustion).
Calm your mind
Acupuncture is fantastic for calming the mind and harmonizing the emotions. Many women find themselves feeling anxious at the change in their circumstances and wondering how they will cope with pregnancy, birth or being a mum. Acupuncture treatments, as well as talking it over with a trusted friend, or if necessary, a counsellor, can really help. It can also help you sleep better at a time when hormonal changes may be interfering with your night’s rest.
Protecting the pregnancy
One of the things you may be concerned about is miscarriage, which is something no-one wants to experience. Most miscarriages are caused by chromosomal abnormalities in the embryo, and cannot be avoided. However, other causes do occur, where something seems to go wrong in the implantation process. So, particularly if you have had more than one miscarriage, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine may be of benefit. We theorize that these therapies counteract an over-active immune system or aid implantation in another way. This is certainly borne out by studies on animals. There has not been much research done on this in humans, but one study of 250 women who had become pregnant after IVF showed that those who took a Chinese herbal formula as well as a standard medication (progesterone) to support the pregnancy had a significantly lower miscarriage rate (13% miscarried) than those who just took the progesterone (23% miscarried).
Several acupuncture points are also used to reduce the chance of miscarriage. I recommend that women who’ve had previous miscarriages, especially if a chromosomal cause has been ruled out, have acupuncture weekly from conception (preferably before, as part of a pre-conception program) until about 12 weeks. Herbs would also be useful in this situation.
If you do experience bleeding in pregnancy, as alarming as it seems, remember that reasons other than miscarriage are often found, such as bleeding from the implantation site and hormonal changes affecting the cervix. Get checked out medically (see your obstetrician or ask your GP for a referral to your hospital’s Early Pregnancy Unit) and also see your acupuncturist as soon as you can, and hopefully your mind can be put at rest.
Moving past the first trimester
Once they get past the first 13 weeks, many women find they start to feel much better, with energy levels picking up and nausea subsiding. This is when the glow starts! See next month’s newsletter for more about how acupuncture can help later in pregnancy.