Many pregnant women ask their medical practitioners if Chinese medicine is safe during pregnancy.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is the practice of therapeutic knowledge, based on observation and diagnosis from 3,000 years of clinical experience.
TCM aims to stimulate the body’s natural healing potential by treating the root cause of a problem and normalizing the body’s internal biological balance. Traditional Chinese medicine helps to maintain a good and healthy female reproductive system and attempts to treat any ailments early, to prevent further pathological changes.
During pregnancy, attention is paid not only to the woman, but also to her unborn baby. You may think that this is no different from Western medicine. However, Traditional Chinese medicine includes one’s everyday regimen, appropriate diet, supporting exercises, and attention to the emotional condition of the expectant mother, in addition to offering acupuncture, herbal medicines, and other alternative healing modalities.
Chinese medicine has a long obstetric history of using acupuncture, not only in pregnancy, but in fertility treatment and postpartum care as well. Acupuncture is the insertion of tiny disposable sterile needles that are placed very gently into specific points on the body. The needles remain in place for about 20 minutes, and patients generally feel relaxed enough to nap during their treatment. They often wake up feeling revitalized and well-rested after their session. Acupuncture is a safe and drug-free way to get well and stay healthy throughout one’s pregnancy.
TCM also uses other modes of treatment like traditional Chinese herbs, moxibustion (heat therapy), cupping, tui na (Chinese medical massage), and diet therapy. Depending on whether a woman is pregnant or trying to conceive, TCM practitioners use each of these things in a slightly different way, which is why it is important to choose a licensed TCM practitioner or acupuncturist who specializes in pregnancy.
Note: There are certain herbs and acupuncture points that practitioners do not use during pregnancy due to safety. Always check with your healthcare provider before buying anything over the counter.
Infertility is the inability to conceive in a couple who have been actively trying to get pregnant for one year. About 8-12% of all couples face problems with infertility, and 20% of these cases are due to both male and female factors. According to the theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine, infertility is caused by a person’s disrupted vital balance and blockages in his/her qi energy and blood circulation flow.
Acupuncture shows great results as a fertility treatment in both men and women. Acupuncture improves the sperm quality in men and ovarian function in women, as well as balancing a woman’s endocrine system and hormones. A TCM practitioner will do a thorough evaluation of both partners, and after successful treatment, the patient’s body(ies) will return to health, and conception may then happen naturally.
While couples are trying to conceive, stimulation acupuncture and herbal medicine can boost their energy, and can help a woman prepare her body. Even during menstruation, TCM promotes endometrial health by getting the blood supply to flow normally and then to grow and thicken in preparation for pregnancy. During the stimulation period, TCM supports follicular maturation. During the ovulation period, relaxation from stress is the main goal. After the embryo transfer, TCM supports the endometrium and the embryo development.
Because acupuncture and herbal medicine have a harmonizing effect, they can help women manage the stress of assisted reproductive therapy.
A miscarriage may be triggered by several factors, many of which greatly depend on the health status of both the mother and the fetus. Since acupuncture is used to bring the body back to equilibrium, these treatments can contribute to the prevention of miscarriage. Acupuncture treatments can help prevent miscarriage by balancing the hormones, strengthening the immune system, regulating the energy and blood flow, removing the stasis and phlegm, and stimulating the nervous system. With a combination of acupuncture and herbs, it is possible to improve the ovarian and follicular function and to increase the blood flow to the endometrium.
Note: If three consecutive miscarriages occur, this is known as habitual (recurrent) miscarriage. At this point, it is important to seek Western medical advice if one hasn’t already.
Acupuncture during a healthy pregnancy
Acupuncture is safe to use while one is pregnant, as it can give relief from complaints like morning sickness, insomnia, heartburn, edemas, or back pain, without taking pills. Acupuncture also helps to prepare for childbirth. Research has proven the positive effects of pre-birth acupuncture, which include a reduction in the duration of labor and the softening of the ligaments which aid in cervical dilation.
There are also numerous herbs and teas that a TCM practitioner can suggest to help with pregnancy symptoms.
In addition, there are many pregnancy-supporting foods one can eat in order to get the most nutrients possible. Probiotic superfoods like sauerkraut, miso (fermented soybean paste) and kambucha (a beverage produced by fermenting sweet tea with a culture of yeast and bacterial foods), are instrumental in helping anyone maintain a healthy intestinal system, especially during pregnancy.
Below are a list of the top 10 foods that are known to be the most nourishing for a pregnant or lactating woman.
Top Ten Pregnancy Supporting Foods:
• Sweet potatoes—strengthen the spleen and stomach, tonify qi, detoxify the body, treat constipation and edema, are low glycemic, are rich in vitamin A, and increase milk production.
• Walnuts—nourish kidney yang (which includes the warming hormone, progesterone), provide good fat and protein, and can treat lower back pain and constipation. Keep them refrigerated to prevent rancidity.
• Chicken—tonifies qi, warms the body, and treats fatigue, postpartum weakness, and leg and lower back pain.
• Lamb—is very warming, strengthens and nourishes qi and the blood, aids in lactation and stopping postpartum blood loss, and can alleviate back pain. Lamb is not recommended during summer months, as it’s too warming.
• Goji berries—are known to boost kidney yang and provide high amounts of antioxidants.
• Carrots—tonify blood, detoxify the body, moisten dryness, promote digestion, benefit the eyes (especially dry eyes), and are rich in vitamin A. Always eat carrots and sweet potatoes with a good fat, like olive oil or coconut oil, to help your body absorb the vitamin A.
• Salmon—strengthens the spleen, tonifies qi, removes dampness, and treats low energy, hemorrhoids, and excessive postpartum bleeding. Do not eat raw salmon during pregnancy, and always choose wild-caught as opposed to farmed.
• Garlic—soothes liver qi, is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral, and detoxifies meat and seafood.
• Spinach—nourishes the blood, strengthens all organs, treats constipation, is high in folate, and is easy to add into dishes and smoothies.
• Eggs—nourish the yin and blood, calm the mind, harmonize digestion, and are a wonderful source of protein and iron.
Of the top ten pregnancy-supporting foods mentioned above, you’ll notice that half of them are high in protein. That’s because protein is the single most important macronutrient to include in a pregnancy diet.
Protein is the second most abundant substance in the body (number one is water). Every single one of your baby’s tissues depends on protein for healthy growth: bones, muscles, skin, blood, hair, nails, organs, and connective tissue. Your baby’s hormones, growth, metabolism, and sexual development all need protein. Protein is also the foundation for his/her ability to create basic chemical reactions, maintain fluid and pH balance, and make the antibodies to fight infections. Not to mention that childbearing, labor, birth, postpartum healing, and lactation all require protein.
Clinicians across the board agree that most women are not getting enough protein in their diets. A woman should try to make sure she’s getting between 60-75 grams of protein per day during her pregnancy. Good protein sources include: animal protein (buffalo, chicken, clean seafood, sardines, lamb), yogurt, eggs, cheese, beans (black, kidney, garbanzo, white), lentils, soy, and quinoa. Note that it is possible to overdo the protein, so adjust the amount according to your body’s needs. (Difficult digestion can be a symptom of too much protein in your diet.)
To the vegetarians: If you are open to the idea, nutritionists recommend gently introducing some animal protein into your diet in the form of broths or fish oil. No need to jump right into a burger or steak. If you are eating a strictly vegetarian diet during your pregnancy, educate yourself on the art of protein-combining to make sure you are getting all of the 22 amino acids (aka protein building blocks) in your diet every day.
Never has there been a more important time to make sure you’re eating the right food than when you are pregnant. Your food is not only nourishing you, it is also creating a brand new precious human body.
Hatzlocha with your pregnancy!