Hooray! You are in the home stretch of a full term pregnancy and it is time to start getting your mind and body prepared for labor and delivery! I was recently interviewed by a researcher about educating women as well as healthcare providers about how acupuncture can benefit women during pregnancy. Inspired by her questions, I am kicking off a series of posts about pregnancy acupuncture – starting with Labor Prep!
Often pregnancy inspires women to make healthier choices about nutrition and exercise, usually preferring to avoid over the counter medications for simple ailments and instead of looking for natural alternatives. Acupuncture and herbal medicine is a gentle, effective intervention that women consider giving a try for the first time while pregnant for allergies, aches, and pains or colds More women are also being referred to Licensed Acupuncturists who specialize in pregnancy care by their midwives and OB/GYN’s for turning breech babies and labor preparation for the mama and baby!
How can Pregnancy Acupuncture help prepare your body?
Turning Breech Babies!
If your midwife or OB is concerned about your baby’s position the best time to begin Tuina (medical massage), acupuncture and moxa to turn breech or transverse babies is in the 33- 34th week of pregnancy. Your baby still has room to do somersaults and time to get into a head down position but this is the time to start gently encouraging her to dive into your pelvis.
Acupuncture has a cumulative effect, meaning that each treatment builds upon the last, similar to going to the gym or physical therapy, which is why it is important to get started with positional therapies when there is room and time to be most effective. I have had OB’s and midwives refer their pregnant patients to me even later (Week 38, 39 and even 40!) in one last ditch effort before a planned C Section to turn babies and while it has been successful, it is not optimal or comfortable to wait until these later weeks. The idea is to first turn the baby into the proper position and then move on to…
During pregnancy, the cervix is long and closed, holding your baby up and inside. Over the course of a few weeks, your cervix should start to shorten or “thin” to release its upright and back position. Very relaxing and gentle acupuncture treatments using points on your back and legs (nowhere near your belly or cervix!) can softly encourage your cervix to ripen. The analogy I use compares these treatments to the ripening of a peach: when the peach is plucked from the tree it is hard but over the course of a few days sitting on a sunny countertop it softens, the flavors open up and it melts in your mouth. Weekly acupuncture from Week 36 to birth encourages this process with your cervix becoming shorter, shifting forward and thinning, therefore, allowing your baby’s head to lower deeper into your pelvis. The pressure of your baby’s head encourages your cervix to dilate and contractions reinforce this pressure until your body is ready to go into active labor.
Studies show that weekly acupuncture treatments from the 35th week until delivery results in babies being born closer to their due dates and with less hours of hard or active labor. Less medical interventions were needed with women who chose natural childbirth. I have observed this in my practice and have midwives report back that labor went more smoothly and was more comfortable for women who had been doing acupuncture in preparation for their births.
What if I am not having contractions or they don’t progress into active labor?
Specific points on the body can be used to stimulate and strengthen uterine contractions. But first we want to make sure that your baby is in an optimal position and that your cervix is ripening – uterine contractions pushing a baby angled into the pelvis improperly or pushing a baby onto an unripened cervix would be painful and an inappropriate treatment. Weak or no contractions is an indication of possible misalignment of the baby position so we would start with stretches and movements to correct the position before proceeding.
One of my missions is to spread the word about how Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine can improve women’s health. (Click on the link to learn more about what we treat) I am passionate about offering care to women during pregnancy who often think they have no other option when acupuncture is a safe, effective and conservative alternative. I happily offer a complimentary phone call to alleviate any concerns and answer questions.
Seek a trained Licensed Acupuncturist with specialized training in Obstetrics
Unfortunately, the majority of acupuncture schools only offer cursory instruction in Obstetrics. For the most effective, painless and most importantly SAFE treatments, it is important to only go to a Licensed Acupuncturist who has completed post graduate specialization training in OB/GYN.
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