On Pins and Needles
Acupuncture - a word that strikes fear into many American's hearts, conjuring up images of needles, pin cushion pain, and witch doctor medicine.
In reality, acupuncture is an ancient art that has earned modern medical notoriety. Acupuncturists identify more than 2,000 acupuncture points that are interconnected with pathways that conduct (transmit) vital energy throughout the body and from organ to organ, regulating body functions, and affecting mental and emotional health.
Modern medicine now recognizes that we, as living, organic beings, do, indeed, transmit and create energy, and that many transmissions that are askew result in feelings of unrest or illness. This mirrors Chinese medical beliefs that illnesses and symptoms are associated with an imbalance of this vital energy that they refer to as qi (pronounced chee).
Acupuncture can either use hair-thin, disposable needles, or laser, electro, or auricular acupuncture (no needles) to stimulate specific areas associated with organ functions in order to help the body maintain its own health by balancing its energy and pathway's effectiveness. The treatment does not hurt, does not sting, in fact, it doesn't feel like a pin prick at all (this is coming from a trypanophobic). At most, it feels relaxing, heavy, and rather sedating even, like a warm bath or dark room.
I have often recommended to women that I am working with to seek out an acupuncturist for various issues, circumstances, or ailments that she might be encountering, but not often does the woman follow through on this advice. Is it a fear of needles, fear that it might not be safe for pregnancy, or a combination? I'm not sure, but let's look at some of the benefits of acupuncture during pregnancy, birth, and beyond.
One of the largest benefits of acupuncture before pregnancy even begins is the probable increase in fertility from regular acupuncture treatments. Acupuncture has been known to help increase sperm count, increase healthy/regular ovulation, and even balance a woman's body to mimic a younger cycle - hence, increasing her chances of conception later in life.
Some women find that they experience morning sickness, or worse, hyperemesis gravidarum, in early pregnancy and sometimes throughout. The good news is that acupuncture has been found to be a very reliable treatment for both regular morning sickness nausea and the more dangerous hyperemesis gravidarum. I read a recent study from Australia that was the largest of it's kind, showing that pregnancy related nausea was no match against the skilled hands of an acupuncturist (wish I could find this study again, any help is greatly appreciated).
Acupuncture is also a reliable form of relief for fatigue, stress, heartburn, migraines, hemorrhoids, and bleeding.
Late Pregnancy & Labor
Later in pregnancy, women often encounter a whole new set of aches and pains. Surprise, surprise, acupuncture can help with the majority of these. in the third trimester, acupuncture can help relieve sciatica, lower backache, pubic pain, joint pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and can even help alleviate the symptoms of edema and high blood pressure - although this is only as successful as proper diet and attention to one's overall health is given.
Moxibustion (long sticks of the herb, moxa, that produce heat and are held close to the acupuncture point of the little toe) has a very good success rate for turning breech babies. This treatment works best between 32-36 weeks, but I personally know of women who have sought this treatment around 37-39 weeks and had success.
This treatment has also been found to be another viable option for encouraging labor. A new study states that it is NOT effective, although the treatment given to bring about this conclusion was not adequate. For induction acupuncture to even have the possibility of being successful, it must occur consecutively over 3 days. This study only gave women two treatments on the same day. Earlier, larger studies have shown that there is a small increase in women who choose acupuncture who go into labor spontaneously.
After birth, a woman can continue to reap the benefits of regular acupuncture treatments. Acupuncture has recently been proven to reduce the incidence of depression, as well as treat depression that haTs already manifested. This means that there is a very viable alternative to medication for women who would like to avoid medication postpartum.
Likewise, it has also been shown to decrease the incidence of heavy lochia, which, as a result, means that the body has less stress that is normally brought on by blood loss, and thus, has a faster and easier time healing and recuperating.
A final way in which acupuncture can help a woman who has just given birth is that it has been shown to have high success rates at assisting women to increase milk supply who might otherwise be experiencing insufficient lactation.
So, next time I, or any other doula, midwife, childbirth educator, sage mama, seasoned oma, or other person in-the-know suggests acupuncture - give it a second thought, and then perhaps you will also become a believer of the healing power of zhēn jǐu.
Acupuncture for post operative nausea and vomiting
Acupuncture for lower back pain
Acupuncture for Acute and Chronic Lower Back pain
Acupuncture for Induction of labor - inconclusive, per summary
Acupuncture and In-Vitro Fertilization