By Kathleen Rushall
Traditional Chinese medicine includes an array of natural remedies such as acupuncture, massage, herbal treatments, and physical exercises like qi gong and Tai ji. These various ministrations can be applied to a myriad of ailments, from arthritis to restless leg syndrome. However, traditional Chinese medicine also includes an arsenal of healing tips for natural conditions such as pregnancy. Almost every discomfort regarding pregnancy (and infertility) can be assisted with the use of Oriental medicine.
Morning sickness is one of the first clues of pregnancy as well as one of the first discomforts. For many women, happy tidings are marred with nausea, vomiting, and heartburn. With acupuncture, women can safely modify these inconveniences with a natural solution. Morning sickness varies greatly in each woman, and the name is misleading - this misery is not confined to the mornings, but can take place at any time of day and last for hours. With acupuncture treatments, the severity of the condition will lessen as well as the frequency with which it occurs.
In a 2004 study conducted by University Hospital in Sweden, 36 women were divided into four groups. There were two groups, each studying a different form of acupuncture (two methods of acupuncture were used: bilateral manual AP of the Pc 6 (Neiguan) acupoint (group 1, n = 10) and bilateral APr of the Pc 6 acupoint) and a control group for each of these. The results revealed that 90% of the women involved in the acupuncture groups had a positive antiemetic (vomit prevention) outcome. The doctors concluded that both acupuncture and acupressure (the act of applying physical pressure to acupuncture points with hands, elbows, or other devices) were extremely effective in the relief of morning sickness and overall nausea.
Dr. Donnica Moore, a doctor and advice columnist of women's health, also addressed the efficacy of acupuncture for morning sickness. In response to a question about this use of acupuncture, she states, "There is clear evidence that needle acupuncture is efficacious for adult postoperative and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting. Many practitioners use it for nausea of pregnancy as well." She cites a recent study conducted by the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management in which 33 women with hyperemesis (a severe form of morning sickness) were treated with acupuncture. In this study, after two active acupuncture treatments, only 7 of 17 women were still vomiting, compared with 12 of 16 women who received placebo acupuncture. According the study authors, the effects of active acupuncture could be seen "often within minutes of stimulation."
In his article, "Acupuncture During Pregnancy," Jonathon Hardcastle takes acupuncture's benefits a step further and discusses pregnancy in the later trimesters. Acupuncture can help women with more problems than just morning sickness. Hardcastle states "Acupuncture has been used to successfully treat heartburn and hemorrhoids in the second trimester...In the third, it can provide relief from sciatica (which is inflammation or pain in the sciatic nerve of the back - often the baby will be pressed against it), joint pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome, which many women develop later in pregnancy." In fact, acupuncture has even been known to help turn a breech baby in the womb, and can also help to stimulate labor for an overdue baby. Many women find that acupuncture-induced labor is easier than labor induced by drugs such as Pitocin. A primary concern of mothers and doctors alike is the vulnerability of a fetus to medication and its adverse effects. Acupuncture is a safe, healthy, and natural means of reducing pain and irritation for a variety of afflictions during pregnancy. It will not negatively affect the baby's health or development, unlike the possible side effects of some Western medication.
However, some of the best health results from the combination of Eastern and Western medicine. Fertility is no exception, and when combined with the Western idea of in vitro fertilization (IVF), Oriental acupuncture can increase chances of pregnancy. Some studies have demonstrated that acupuncture can affect the levels of pituitary and ovarian hormones, which can increase chances of pregnancy. Also, electro-acupuncture (the application of a pulsating electrical current to acupuncture needles as a means of stimulating one's "qi," or life force) has been shown to improve blood flow in the uterine arteries of infertile women.
Acupuncture is widely known for its ability to induce relaxation. Infertility can be extremely grueling; it often leads to stress and other intense emotions. This can be a vicious cycle for some women, stress can inhibit pregnancy; when the body is relaxed, it functions better. The feeling of well-being provided by acupuncture can serve to relax the muscles of the uterus. If the uterus is in a relaxed state at the time of the IVF embryo transfer, it is less likely to produce contractions that could push the transferred embryo away from fertilization. Acupuncture also improves blood circulation to the ovaries, which will boost the health of the eggs, as well as the uterus, which will increase the lining and make it strong enough to carry eggs full term.
By providing better circulation and blood flow to the womb, acupuncture will give the eggs a better chance to be nourished and supported throughout the pregnancy.
The best results can be achieved from acupuncture when it is practiced regularly. Rather than a quick fix, it should be viewed as a lifestyle change, similar to eating healthily, or regular exercise. Studies indicate that receiving acupuncture treatments about 30 minutes before and after in vitro fertilization can increase the chances that the embryo will be successfully implanted, and can also reduce the risk of miscarriage.
Studies published in the British Medical Journal in 2007 tested 1,366 women in four Western countries. Some of these women were given traditional acupuncture before and after in vitro fertilization, and for comparison, others were given sham acupuncture or no acupuncture. The women who received acupuncture before and after IVF had a 65 percent increase in pregnancies than the control group, and the rates of live births were nearly twice as high than the women given sham or no acupuncture.
IVF drugs and the in vitro procedure itself are thought to be more effective if acupuncture is done once a week in the two months prior to the beginning of IVF treatment, as well as continued regularly at least once a week during IVF treatment. A German study, published in the medical journal Fertility and Sterility tested 160 women, giving 80 of them acupuncture with their IVF treatments. The results were significant: "The analysis shows that the pregnancy rate for the acupuncture group is considerably higher than for the control group (42.5% vs. 26.3%)." Another benefit of acupuncture is that it is affordable, and is gaining increasing coverage by health insurance plans. In vitro fertilization can cost up to 20,000 dollars, and is often not covered by insurance. Prices in acupuncture range, but are usually between 30 and 150 dollars.
Oriental medicine continues to serve women after the birth of their children. The ancient art of infant massage is becoming increasingly popular in the United States and can improve the health of an infant as well as the bond between mother and child. Infant massage a form of massage therapy tailored for, and applied specifically to infants. This type of massage is used to enhance blood circulation, stimulate the nervous system, promote relaxation, decrease the production of stress hormones, and relieve discomfort associated with colic, gas, congestion, and teething. Applied by certified massage therapists or parents who have undergone training in this healing method, infant massage provides many positive benefits for parents and children.
The University Of Miami School Of Medicine and the Nova Southeastern University have been the flagship institutions researching the effects of massage in infants, citing the numerous benefits in clinical studies. According to their numerous studies, "Research suggests that touch is as important to infants and children as eating and sleeping. Tough therapy triggers many physiological changes that help infants and children grow and develop. For example, massage can stimulate nerves in the brain that facilitate food absorption, resulting in faster weight gain. It also lowers levels of stress hormones, resulting in improved immune function."
Infants who receive massage therapy may reap numerous benefits, including a feeling of relaxation, relief from stress, involvement and interaction with adults, and stimulation to the nervous system, which aids in many bodily functions. "When infant massage therapy is properly applied to preterm infants, they respond with increased weight gains, improved developmental scores, and earlier discharge from the hospital." Infant massage also provides benefits for those giving the massage.
Parents gain an increased awareness of the baby and his or her needs while enhancing the bonding process between child and caregiver. In the advent of postnatal depression-a common occurrence among mothers following birth-both child and parent are in danger of suffering long-term adverse consequences in their relationship and the infant's development. Improving a mother's depression through massage techniques that not only physically aid the infant but also heal both individuals emotionally may be the key to encouraging positive mother-infant interaction. "Learning the practice of infant massage by mothers is an effective treatment for facilitating mother-infant interaction in mothers with postnatal depression." Further, "Parents of the [infant] also benefit because infant massage enhances bonding with their child and increases confidence in their parenting skills." The benefits of massage on both infants and their parents are overwhelmingly positive, with research indicating that infant massage is increasingly recognized as a legitimate health care treatment. Using acupuncture and massage regularly may be one of the best options for health and comfort for women during and directly after pregnancy.
Aiyana, Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs: http://www.amazinghealing.com/aiyana.php?nav=8&article_id=33
Beachy, JM. Premature infant massage in the NICU. Neonatal Network. 2003 May-June; 22(3): 39-45.
Fertility and Sterility. Vol. 77, NO. 4, April 2002.
Field, T. Massage therapy for infants and children. Developmental and Behavioral Psychology. 1995 Apr; 16(2): 105-11.
Hardcastle, Jonathon. "Acupuncture During Pregnancy." Mimi Maternity http://astore.amazon.com/amuchbetteway-20/detail/B00006I4WI/102-3163709-0304130
Hitti, Miranda, Acupuncture for In Vitro Fertilization? Medicinenet.com
Moore, Donnica. http://www.drdonnica.com/faqs/00000861.htm
Onozawa K., et al. Infant massage improves mother-infant interaction for mothers with postnatal depression. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2001 Mar; 63(1-3): 201-7.
University of Maryland Researchers Find Benefit of Acupuncture for In Vitro Fertilization, British Medical Journal. University of Maryland Medical Center
Kathleen Rushall graduated from Seattle University with a B.A. in English. She is working on her Master's degree in English at San Diego State University. Kathleen is part of the PR Department of Pacific College of Oriental Medicine.