I have to admit, the science behind acupuncture mystifies me, but the art of it makes me so happy I don’t care. Plus it’s been around for thousands of year’s, so I have some built in faith. In case your brand new to acupuncture or have no idea how it might be used while your pregnant or even during labor (yes, you read right) we’ve written up a brief description of the practice and asked our friend Laurel, an acupuncturist and doula, to help explain it all.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture—is a part of traditional Chinese medicine practice and is based on the idea that keeping our vital energy (“qi”) flowing smoothly keeps healthy. Qi circulates through twelve energy lines (known as meridians) on the body and each is associated with a different organ system. An acupuncturists will insert needles into specified points along meridian lines to influence the restore balance to the flow of qi. Traditional Chinese medicine also uses herbs and other techniques such as meditation and massage along with acupuncture. Acupuncture has gained a lot of popularity in the U.S. and has endorsements from the NIH for certain condition and the FDA has approved needle use protocols, so there are standards of care that ensure needle safety. Many insurances now cover acupuncture, but if you find a practitioner who doesn’t take your insurance, expect prices to be between $60-$75 for 1 hour session).
How Acupuncture Works:
There are numerous theories about how acupuncture works. Some of them are:
* acupuncture stimulates the release of pain-relieving endorphins
* acupuncture influences the release of neurotransmitters, substances that transmit nerve impulses to the brain
* acupuncture influences the autonomic nervous system
* acupuncture stimulates circulation
* acupuncture influences the electrical currents of the body
Acupuncture for Pregnant and Laboring Women
(Note: this information comes from Laurel Axen Carroll, a licensed acupuncturist (www.ancientcurrent.com). Thank you Laurel).
Traditional Chinese medicine is a useful tool for women looking to enhance their fertility, alleviate the symptoms of pregnancy, induce labor, turn a breech baby and to nourish their body postpartum. Acupuncture has little to no side effects, and it’s safe for you and your baby. Usually during a first visit the practitioner will ask you lots of questions about your main complaint as well as questions concerning your diet, sleeping patterns, and lifestyle. As a holistic medicine there is no separation between the mind and the body, therefore everything is taken into consideration before an illness can be diagnosed and treated. A typical treatment usually lasts about an hour and most people report feeling very relaxed or energized after treatment.
I have worked with woman in all stages of pregnancy, and have found acupuncture helps address all sort of things such as: nausea, fatigue, depression, anxiety, constipation, round ligament pain, sciatica, insomnia, acid reflux, anemia, congestion, hemorrhoids and varicose veins. A pretty impressive list.
Acupuncture for Labor:
Acupuncture can be an excellent tool during labor especially if your labor is “failing to progress”, meaning that one’s labor is prolonged or not proceeding efficiently. This is usually seen when a woman has done a lot of work and has labored extensively but hasn’t dilated as much as would be expected. Specific points can help drop the baby into correct position to facilitate labor. Acupuncture can also be used effectively for pain relief. In this case the needles are stimulated quickly and removed to allow the woman to move through the contractions. For a labor that is progressing normally acupressure can be just as effective as acupuncture.
In my practice I have come to really love the pre-birth treatment that starts at 36 weeks gestation and ends with the onset of labor. I have seen so many women go into labor “on-time” avoiding medical induction. Most women come back and report smooth, efficient labors as well. I personally can remember the intensity of the last few weeks of pregnancy and enjoy communicating with women during this time. It is such a crazy precipice to be teetering on…waiting to meet your baby for the first time, the endless list of unknowns. If there is anything that I can impart to my clients during this time it is to have faith in your body. Every woman has the tools and skills to labor correctly, you just have to dig deep and trust.
A recent study showed that woman who had acupuncture sessions leading up to their labor had a 35% reduction in the number of inductions, (for first-time mothers this was a 43% reduction) and a 31% reduction in the epidural rate. Debra Betts conducted this study on pre-birth acupuncture. She is an incredible midwife/acupuncturist from New Zealand who wrote the bible on treating pregnant women, The Essential Guide to Acupuncture in Pregnancy and Childbirth. If you go on her website: http://acupuncture.rhizome.net.nz you can find links to her studies along with a downloadable booklet on pressure points for labor. Studies include acupuncture for morning sickness, routine pre-labor, cervical ripening and breech presentation.
Oct. 15, 2003 — A parent’s anxiety leaps when their child is going into surgery. But a new study shows acupuncture needles — carefully placed around the mother’s ear — can decrease her anxiety. When moms are less anxious, there’s less anxiety in children, experts say.
Auricular or ear acupuncture has long been known to relieve stress and anxiety. Until now, however, it was not known that needles placed around the ear were so effective in relieving parental anxiety associated with a childs’ surgery, a constant and very real concern for doctors.
Researcher Shu-Ming Wang, MD, at the Yale University School of Medicine. Wang presented study findings at the annual meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists being held in San Francisco this week.
In Wang’s study, 43 mothers randomly chosen to get auricular acupuncture 30 minutes before their child’s surgery had significantly less anxiety than the 49 mothers who got acupuncture but at the shoulder points, wrists, and joint positions.
Also, there was significantly less anxiety in children who’s mothers received auricular acupuncture to reduce anxiety when they were wheeled into the operating room, and when the anesthesia mask was put on their faces.
In fact, after the surgery was over, 51% of the auricular acupuncture-group mothers asked to keep the needles in place.
While mothers were skeptical about the acupuncture procedure, the results were indisputable, researchers say.
“After the insertion of needles into the [ear], most of them were pleasantly surprised and asked, ‘Is that it?'” says Wang in a news release. The procedure involves small needles that resemble flat thumbtacks. They are unobstrusive, effective, have no side effects, and are virtually painless.
In fact, “many of the patients laughed after I showed them the needles, and only a handful of them experienced a slight stinging sensation,” Wang says.
Calm Mothers Ease Anxiety in Children
A relaxed mother helps the child to relax, Wang stresses. Studies have shown that parents’ anxiety can affect the child’s recovery, triggering clinging, nightmares, bedwetting, and aggressive behavior — all signs of extreme anxiety in children.
Actually, a parent’s anxiety can be a nightmare for all involved. In rare cases, it can even be dangerous. In one case, an anxious parent actually pulled a semiconscious child away from the middle of getting anesthesia, Wang says.
Wang has personally witnessed crying parents enter operating rooms, creating anxiety in children. This “invariably causes the child to cry and affects the procedure,” Wang explains. “All this anxiety distracts health-care providers’ attention away from the most important person in the procedure, the child.”
In another incident, a mother fainted during a procedure and injured herself.
Ancient Procedure Helps Today’s Patients
How does the ancient Chinese tradition of acupuncture work? No one knows, says Wang. However, countless studies show what the Chinese have long known — that it does work.
Acupuncture is being used increasingly in anesthesiology and other medical procedures. The needles are unobstructive, painless, effective, and cause no side effects, Wang explains.
While acupuncture is not for all illnesses, “I strongly believe that if we can combine the best of acupuncture with the best of medicine, we will achieve the best care of our patients,” Wang says.
Reducing anxiety in children — and their mothers — before surgery can go a long way toward a better recovery, Wang concludes.