The strength of Chinese Medicine is in preventative health and the most ideal scenario leading up to pregnancy is to bring the health of both the mother and father up to a good level before starting a family. But every couple that is starting a family has very different circumstances and situations surrounding this process. In this short article, I will outline how Chinese medicine can assist with pregnancy support from conception to the final stage.
Chinese medicine is most commonly used to assist couples who have difficulties with conceiving naturally or who are going through IVF. When helping couples who are trying to conceive naturally, acupuncture and herbal medicine is used to assist women to optimise their menstrual cycle to help regulate hormone fluctuations/transitions, improve egg quality and endometrial lining thickness/quality. For men, this is to help improve the sperm quantity, motility (ability to move), morphology (size and structure), volume and quantity of semen.
During the IVF process, it is recommended to be getting regular acupuncture sessions to assist with menstrual cycle regulation, improving egg quality and endometrial lining but more importantly to help offset side effects from the injections required for egg collection.
The last step of IVF is the embryo transfer and this is the most important point in time to get acupuncture. Studies have shown acupuncture before and after embryo transfer significantly improves the chances of implantation. This is because acupuncture has calming effects on both the mind and body. By calming down the body’s immune system response to seeing the embryo as a foreign body, the uterus will be more receptive to the embryo and hence reducing rejection rates.
Couples who are able to conceive naturally and unassisted reflect good health or at least relatively good health leading up to conception. This is most commonly due to age related factors, but this doesn’t mean that they can’t benefit from Chinese Medicine assisting with pregnancy support.
The most common complication during the first trimester after conception is morning sickness. For most women, this will ease up after the first trimester but there are an unlucky few who may experience this throughout the whole pregnancy. The severity of morning sickness may vary from just feeling nauseous to vomiting a few times a day, sometimes leading to weight loss.
In Chinese Medicine, this is due to an imbalance of the Conception vessel and Governing vessel which run up the middle of front and back of the body. This imbalance has been linked to the embryo implantation process and initial rapid growth of embryo to foetus. This disruption can affect a weakened digestive system causing the Qi to rise or move upwards which creates the sensation of nausea or the need to vomit. When the digestive system is healthy, Qi will be moving in a downwards motion similar to the movement of food down the digestive tract.
The goal of the acupuncture treatments during the first trimester is to reduce this imbalance, support the uterus for embryo development, calm the uterus from any contractions or spasms and redirect the upward moving rebellious Qi back down. This is particularly important for women who have a history of miscarriage or women going through IVF. The frequency for acupuncture treatments can range from once per week for 12 weeks or as much as every day depending on severity.
By the 13th week leading into the second trimester, for most women, morning sickness will start to ease up and completely disappear. This is because the initial rapid growth of the foetus growth has settled down to a manageable rate that the body can handle. This allows the balance of the Conception vessel and Governing vessel to return which reduces the rebellious upward movement of Qi, hence reducing the nausea and vomiting sensations.
The goal of acupuncture treatments during the second trimester is to support the uterus with fetal development as well as address other symptoms like aches and pains which may develop with the increase in foetus size. The frequency could be reduced to once every 3 – 4 weeks depending on what symptoms are present. If the nausea and vomiting has not settled then the frequency of treatments may remain the same as the first trimester depending on severity.
In the third trimester, most babies are still in a breech (bottom down) position. By around 34 weeks, I am monitoring to see that the baby will naturally turn to the head down position. If not, then treatment will commence to try turning the baby and encourage a head down position. This cannot be left too late as the foetus will continue to grow and will run out of physical space closer towards the due date.
Around week 36, I am monitoring to see if the baby bump has dropped naturally which indicates that the baby’s head has moved lower into the pelvis ready for birth. Whilst this varies between mothers, for first time mothers if the drop doesn’t happen by week 38 there are higher chances of the baby being overdue. The treatment focus will then be to promote labor by induction via acupuncture to encourage the birth. The treatment frequency will be every 2-3 days from week 38 but more frequently leading up to or over week 40.
Hopefully this short article shows how involved Chinese Medicine is with pregnancy support. For more complicated conditions that may arise during pregnancy, it is still best to consult your Chinese Medicine practitioner for more details as to how acupuncture and/or herbs can assist your individual cases.