Acupuncture and acupressure during pregnancy; decreasing pain and stress, improving birth outcomes
A woman’s body goes through so many changes during pregnancy. Quality and restful sleep become more difficult to obtain. Back and hip pain become a regular struggle. Moods can be joyful and exciting one day, then irritable and weepy the next. For many women, the inevitable common symptoms arise as well, such as nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, and fatigue. While most women have regular appointments with their OB/Gyn or midwife to address these concerns, few are aware that there is another avenue of care that can be a great compliment to standard medical care – acupuncture and Chinese medicine.
Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has a history of over 3,000 years in helping women before, during and after pregnancy. Today, even right here in the Twin Cities, acupuncture is effectively utilized in both inpatient and outpatient settings to address a wide range of pre- and postnatal symptoms. Hennepin Healthcare offers acupuncture at several of our clinics, with a few licensed acupuncturists specializing in pre- and postnatal care.
According to Jamie Schafer, acupuncturist at our Golden Valley Clinic, “Nausea is extremely common in the first trimester, and many women also experience a loss of appetite and an aversion to certain foods. We choose acupuncture points based on each woman’s individual constitution. Some women may experience nausea with no appetite and fatigue, while others experience nausea with stomach pain and a sensation of feeling cold. We typically advise that women come in to see us once/ week for about 4-6 weeks, and sometimes twice/ week if the symptoms are more difficult to manage.”
She adds, “Additionally, nutrition plays a huge role. I find that keeping blood sugar stable with smaller more frequent meals and ample healthy fats, avoiding sugary snacks and treats (which can amplify nausea), and staying hydrated are all very important, not just the acupuncture alone. That’s what makes TCM so wonderful – it incorporates the person, the food, and the lifestyle in one whole picture, instead of just zooming in on one aspect.
Anxiety is another symptom we see a lot of women struggling with throughout pregnancy, and especially leading up to labor. Anxiety can present with heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and insomnia just to name a few. While many women also seek counseling and take medications to help manage anxiety, TCM can be a great compliment. The treatment itself helps to calm and relax the mind, and for many women it’s the only 30 minute break alone they get that week! We also commonly recommend supplemental practices like yoga and meditation.”
Jamie goes on to explain “When all of these approaches are added regularly, you really start to see a shift in how these women are presenting. The stressors are still there of course, but how they respond to them has changed – they have more tools. When women have been doing acupuncture regularly for anxiety, and then add something like guided meditation or yoga, they more naturally find themselves in a relaxed state when presented with stressors – and that’s what it’s all about. There’s no one special acupuncture point, no magic button to push, we have to train our minds to be calm and relaxed, little by little, and then we more easily get there on our own in everyday situations.”
In addition to addressing specific symptoms during pregnancy, “pre-birth acupuncture” starting at 37 weeks can be a highly effective treatment to prepare the body for labor, shorten the duration, and minimize the need for additional interventions. This technique was actually first studied in the 1970’s, and has since grown popularity with midwives and acupuncturists in New Zealand. “One of my acupuncture mentors introduced me to pre-birth acupuncture, and I thought it was brilliant! There are so many women who want a more natural birth, with less interventions when possible. They want the Western medical care and option for emergency interventions when needed, but they may want to minimize the need for an epidural, induction, or C-section. That’s where pre-birth acupuncture comes in. She may still need the induction or the epidural, labor is full of unexpected twists and turns sometimes, but doing this prep work first, we really see a positive impact on decreasing those interventions, and also shortening labor times. But a shorter labor is not always a good thing – we’re going for efficiency and making sure the woman has all the great care and support possible before she goes into labor. Research shows that women who receive regular, supportive care during their pregnancy, have much better birth outcomes with fewer complications.”
Patient testimonial: “On Tuesday night I thought I was going into labor but everything basically stopped on Tuesday night. Induction on Wednesday actually went really well and I think it was in huge part due to a month of acupuncture. My husband did really well with acupressure during labor and the whole process only took 6.5 hours – only two of which were painful- and he came out in one push! Anyway, thanks for all your help. I’m spreading the good word about acupuncture!!! I wish I had known about its benefits when I was pregnant with my first son.”
Patient testimonial: “The induction was much better than I thought. I had very little pain (other than a crazy headache) until they broke my water at 6cm. After that things did get much stronger and I took an epidural. But… my cervix dilated and I was able to deliver vaginally (they had been thinking it would have to be a c-section based on how she was tolerating the contractions). “I only had to push for 15 minutes and she came right out! I feel the acupuncture really helped to get my labor started naturally, and I was able to avoid having a C section that was originally planned!”
Jamie Schafer, LAc, MAOM, Dipl., OM, is a licensed acupuncturist at Golden Valley and our Clinic & Specialty Center. She has special training and interest in pre-birth acupuncture.