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Acupuncture for Pregnancy Support

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While many may have heard of using acupuncture for pain relief, acupuncture for fertility and pregnancy support is not as well known or utilized in the United States. However, as more potential patients and primary healthcare providers become educated on the issues and conditions that acupuncture can treat, it would reason that more individuals would turn to acupuncture for their pregnancy needs. This is especially true as acupuncture can be of great assistance throughout the entire pregnancy process: from when a couple decides that they would like to become pregnant, to conception, carrying, labor and finally to postpartum support.

Why might so many patients turn to acupuncture, aside from the fact that it can be useful throughout the pregnancy process? It’s natural, safe and effective. Why rely on drugs and hormones that come with a plethora of potential adverse side effects when you can rely on the healthy functioning on your own body, prodded by acupuncture treatments? Acupuncture works because the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body help to trigger an internal, biophysiological cascade of events inside your body, in which various chemicals, neurotransmitter and hormones are released as the body moves from the sympathetic (“fight or flight”) into the parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest”).

I like to recommend that patients start acupuncture treatment the second they decide that they want to have a baby. Why? By assessing the overall health of both partners at the initial “planning” stage and receiving treatment, based on that initial assessment, the likelihood that a woman may conceive naturally drastically increases as does her chances of carrying to term.

Even if a woman has been told that she will need to undergo assisted fertility treatments, such as in-vitro fertilization or intrauterine insemination, the chances of conceiving with acupuncture is higher then without acupuncture. For both natural and assisted conceptions, acupuncture helps to increase fertility by increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs, like the ovaries and the uterus, reducing stress and balancing the endocrine system. With a relaxed uterus and efficient blood flow, the chances that an egg with be fertilized greatly increases. The uterus is more receptive to successful fertilization through the relaxing of the uterine wall and muscles and the increased blood flow.

In a 2012 study by the Tel Aviv Medical Center, “When combining IUI with TCM treatments, 65.5 percent of the test group were able to conceive, compared with 39.4 percent of the control group, who received no herbal or acupuncture therapy. The method is as ‘close to nature’ as possible and can be used by women employing sperm donors, or after a partner's sperm is centrifuged to enhance its motility in the uterus (Tel Aviv University American Friends, 2012).”

The goal of acupuncture during conception is not only to help increase the chances of egg fertilization, but to help increase the chances of a healthy baby as well as to support the woman’s health during the pregnancy. Therefore, acupuncture treatments should be continued once there is a confirmed pregnancy. Again, this is where stress reduction, increased blood circulation and hormone and endocrine balancing come into play for both development of a healthy fetus and continued good health of the woman. Acupuncture treatments help to maintain a pregnancy, decreasing the chances of miscarriage, as well as to help alleviate symptoms associated with the early pregnancy stage, such as fatigue, nausea and heartburn. As the pregnancy progresses, acupuncture can be used to address issues such as aches, pain, constipation and swelling that may come. It can also, through its ability to balance the endocrine system, help decrease the chances that a woman would develop pregnancy-related diabetes (gestational diabetes).

As the pregnancy enters the third trimester, acupuncture treatments may shift the focus to helping to prepare the woman’s body for labor. Acupuncture helps to relax and soften the uterus while also bringing blood flow to the pelvis; this encourages the baby to descend into the birth canal in the proper position. As the delivery date approaches, the cervix will be encouraged to soften and dilate while the uterine muscles will be “instructed” to contract when needed. What does this mean? Using acupuncture in the third trimester will increase the likelihood that a woman will go into spontaneous labor around her due date, decreasing the need for induction or a scheduled cesarean. Less medical interventions will be needed to help engage and support labor. Some studies even show that the use of acupuncture during pregnancy in the third trimester leads to faster, easier births; an “average of 1.5 hours shorter” labor (Dr. Ammi Dobbie, 2016). Some literature also shows that acupuncture may be used to help rectify a baby that is breech or turn a baby along with the use of a therapy known as moxibustion, in addition to helping with labor support.

Finally, acupuncture is a great treatment to turn to postpartum. In this case, acupuncture helps with the recovery process following labor, milk production or lactation support and hormonal balance. This, in addition to the ability to regulate stress, helps lead to a happier postpartum period. A huge shift just happened for the woman; acupuncture is going to help create a new, healthy homeostasis or equilibrium for her. Studies have also shown that those who undergo acupuncture treatments following birth have a decreased chance of suffering from postpartum depression compared to those who did not receive acupuncture.

This post is meant to be a simple introduction to how acupuncture can be used throughout the pregnancy process, from conception to postpartum. During each step of the process, acupuncture can target specific systems of the body in order to help support the pregnancy and the woman. How acupuncture works and how it works specifically for each phase is a textbook’s worth of information!

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