Everything surrounding pregnancy can be tough! Getting pregnant, the pains of being pregnant, and everything in between. I am always the first person to look into more holistic approaches when it comes to my body and my kids health. Now I am not saying that acupuncture is magic, because there is real science behind it, buuuuut, I think it comes pretty close to something magical in my book. I decided to sit down with my amazeballs acupuncturist, Rebecca, to pick her brain on pregnancy and everything that comes with it. Enjoy Graytmama’s very first interview, which won’t be the last!!
1).So, Rebecca, I have heard that acupuncture can help a women get pregnant, and even help with infertility? Is this true? I have endometriosis (gut wrenching cramps and irregular periods), can acupuncture help with that?
Many women get pregnant and have babies with the assistance of acupuncture. Some women come in while working with fertility specialists. Others come in at the beginning wanting to start the process with a holistic mindset. Either way our goal is to bring their body into a more balanced state so that they can support a baby. One of the great things about working on fertility with women is that it forces them to take a step back to evaluate what they need to do to take care of themselves first. Stress is an ambiguous and troublesome culprit for many couple’s issues. We work on reducing stress in addition to hormone balance, regulating women’s cycles and painful or irregular periods, and increasing circulation.
With endometriosis we start by getting a better understanding of all of your symptoms, including understanding any patterns with your pain, cycle length, etc. First we work on managing those symptoms with acupuncture, lifestyle adjustments, nutrition and herbs. From there we work with them as any other patient trying to get pregnant.
2). I feel like I have had wacka-doodle menstrual cycles for as long as I can remember! Does acupuncture help if you have really long cycles or are just bleeding irregularly? If so, how does it help?
Acupuncture can help with long, short, irregular, painful, and absent menstrual cycles. During a course of treatment we first take a through history and want to understand not just your cycle but also other symptoms you may be experiencing. Examples may include: getting up to go to the bathroom several times a night, craving sweet or salty foods, and obsessive thoughts. From there we use all those pieces of information and come up with an underlying Chinese diagnosis. That is what we treat and work on rebalancing. So if you and your girlfriend both have irregular periods, that doesn’t mean you would both have the same treatment because you probably don’t have the same symptoms overall. Chinese medicine is great at looking in the grey areas, at helping to figure out in a “healthy” or “unhealthy” person what may be off and then we can use a variety of tools to help treat a person holistically. Acupuncture, Moxibustion, acupressure, Tui Na (Chinese medical massage), herbs, nutrition, lifestyle modifications, etc are all considered in a course of treatment. Acupuncture is not miraculous, although it may seem so sometimes. It is a logical system and it’s also a team effort between the practitioner and the patient.
3). So, I almost passed out when my doctor tried to take my blood with that big ass needle, how the hell am I going to handle a bunch of needles going into my skin and staying there?
That is a good question and something almost every first timer asks in some form or another. The needles that we use are made with surgical stainless steel and are pointy but that’s about where the similarities end. Acupuncture needles are solid and hair thin, they are also built to push the skin aside to go in without pain. Needles at the doctors office are much different in that they need to either put things in or take things out, so there is the pain. Once acupuncture needles are in people often feel relaxed. You shouldn’t move around a lot but most people don’t even think about it once they are in, they just lie still and enjoy the relaxing experience.
4). I saw some reality star getting acupuncture on TV, and she had to lay there for like an hour with tons of needles sticking everywhere without moving! Can you explain what a session is actually like?
During a typical follow up session we start by…
1. Evaluating how you are doing and going thru the intake, which takes between 5-15 minutes.
2. Then you would lie down on the treatment table and we may do more physical evaluation or we may begin prepping you right away to insert the needles. This whole process takes 5-10 minutes usually.
3. We then wait with you a few minutes to make sure you are comfortable as well as make notes in your chart and if you are relaxed we leave you for 20-30 minutes to rest. Most people zone out during this time. They may fall asleep, meditate, or just enjoy the peace. Depending on what you prefer we may check on you through out that time too.
4. Then when we come back at the end we take out the needles, which takes 2 minutes and move on to whatever else we need to do be it ear seeds, bodywork, reviewing homework etc.
So the session takes an hour but it’s broken up and for most people is entirely an enjoyable experience.
5). If I have been trying to get preggers for almost 6 months, how can acupuncture help?
Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine can be used at any stage. Our goal is in some ways always the same, we are trying to help to understand your imbalances and re-regulate your body to its natural (healthy) state. So if a couple has been trying for 6 months without luck it is often one of three things:
1. Completely normal and just an unlucky 6 months
2. A vague stress related issue (I’d say this is most people)
3. A more complicated physical issue
I am speaking in very broad strokes of course. But a lot of women that come in with the diagnosis of “unexplained infertility” don’t have anything medically wrong. Therefore, this is exactly where acupuncture shines. But if there is something medically wrong (like endometriosis or PSOS), we can also work on that and then fertility as well.
So, what does acupuncture actually do in relation to fertility? It helps to regulate
the channels and improve how efficiently and properly your body is functioning. We do that by working on:
Regulating the menstrual cycle
Increasing blood flow and circulation
Boosting the immune system
6). Now that I am growing a tiny human how can you help me with sleepless nights, back aches, swollen feet, and fatigue? Oh wait, did I mention nausea!? Like morning, noon, and night!
I’ll go thru these in order. All of these of course completely are normal first of all, so thumbs up for being a healthy pregnant woman! But they are uncomfortable and at times debilitating. Not quite the glowing pregnancy you may have imagined pre-conceiving.
Sleepless nights: Depending on whether you are restless because your mind is racing, you are uncomfortable, hot, or have go to the bathroom all the time each Chinese diagnosis is going to be a little different. So we would work on your specific imbalances to help you get a more restful sleep.
Backaches: This is a great thing to treat with acupuncture because it is safe and effective. I generally start with a special auricular (ear) treatment to see if we can get immediate relief and then work on rebalancing the rest of the body. Then I also place take-home “ear seeds” in the patient’s ears also. These are little stickers with tiny beads that apply acupressure on the points and you can also stimulate them yourself by massaging them to help prolong our treatment.
Swollen feet: This is an unfortunate symptom, first of all make sure to listen to your body and rest when you need to and also take time through out the day and night to elevate your legs. That is easy and free and honestly the most important thing. However, if it is still an issue in acupuncture we work on helping your body to reregulate fluids in your system. Specifically we work with the Chinese Spleen, Kidney, and San Jiao channels. These are involved in dispersing fluids properly, filtering your blood, and transforming your food into useable nutrients and leading the remainder to the correct facilities.
Fatigue: This can be another dozy. Again, the most important thing, especially in the first trimester, is to listen to your body. If you are tired sleep more or sit more. It’s not just a symptom of pregnancy but of what your body needs. If you would like help through acupuncture and acupressure though we can help to relieve your body of stress and improve how well it is functioning. There by creating more energy and relieving you of some fatigue at least.
Nausea: This, as well as stress, are the most common conditions we treat in pregnant women. As your body is going through major changes hormonally as well as physically it is very common to feel nauseous. One reason medically for morning sickness may be the high levels of HCG in the blood. In Chinese medicine it is viewed as disruption in the circulation of Qi or energy. There are a number of channels that are responsible for nourishing the fetus and acupuncture can be used to ease this transition during the 1st trimester.
7). So, it kinda freaks me out thinking that you might stab my baby with one of those needles! Is it possible to hurt my baby or are there any risks of doing acupuncture while preggers?
That is a very good question and a little funny. Once you are pregnant the lower abdomen and lower back are avoided with needles. So there is no chance of that happening with a competent acupuncturist.
I do also want to say there are a few circumstances that abdominal or lower back points may be suggested and would be used only with consent from the mother.
1. There may be special cases in the early stages of pregnancy that upper abdominal points may be called for in women that have extreme morning sickness, are anxious or are putting off a lot of heat. But these are not necessary, just some of the many point options, and again these would be far away from the baby.
2. There is a special protocol to help induce the baby in the last weeks of the third trimester that calls for lower abdominal points to be used. But this would again be discussed with the mother and not all acupuncturists use this method. I prefer to use other methods of induction myself but it’s good to know there are other options available.
3. Lower back points can be used during labor or to stimulate labor to help with dilation and reduce pain. Again the needles are still not going near the baby nor would this be done without the mother’s approval.
8). My gals pals baby’s was breached and she would have done anything to NOT have that baby be sliced out of her. Is there anything you can do to help with a breached baby?
Yes, we can try at least! In Chinese medicine a modality called Moxibustion is used in breech presentations that involves lighting a Moxa stick and applying heat to a particular acupuncture point on either pinky toe. This can help to stimulate hormones in the mother that stimulate the uterine in a way that encourages the fetus to move. No treatment is ever guaranteed though but it can be effective for some women.
Other options women may want to explore are: Shiatsu, Reflexology, or the Webster Technique with a certified Chiropractor.
9). My doctor really wants me to get the flu shot, but I am nervous about getting it while pregnant. Do you do anything during cold and flu season?
We offer a special Cold & Flu treatment that includes acupuncture, gua sha and/or cupping to help relieve the sinus pressure, post-nasal drip, cough, fever, chills aches and pains. The treatment is shorter than a typical session and many people feel relief very quickly. However, it may also require multiple sessions as the symptoms change. If you are pregnant or nursing it is always good to talk to your doctor about your symptoms as well.
10). Breastfeeding didn’t go so well for me, because I had a low milk supply. I know some chicks who have too much milk, and some that don’t have very much at all. Is there anything acupuncture or herbal supplements can do to help with this?
Timing is important but also being careful not to blame yourself if you have trouble breastfeeding as many factors play into this process. Formula and breast milk both have benefits. With that being said there are foods that can help with the milk supply as well as acupuncture protocols to help as well.
#1: Make sure you making time to eat and drink enough fluids. After the baby comes it can be hard to do anything, let along eat or drink but it is essential if you are also trying to feed your baby from your own supplies.
#2: Herbs: Fenugreek, Fennel, Cumin, Black Sesame
* The Traditional Medicinal brand makes a bagged tea “Mother’s Milk” that is available at most grocery stores and that include both Fenugreek and Fennel seeds.
#3: Foods to focus on because they are nutrient dense and help promote milk production: Water, Green leafy vegetables, lentils, chickpeas, papaya, asparagus, carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, nuts, garlic, oats, and healthy amounts of fats (like olive oil, coconut oil, flaxseed oil, and butter)
If you are still having problems first talk with your lactation specialist and then come in for acupuncture if you would like to as well. We can do points and a protocol to help stimulate milk production as well as the let down reflex.
11). Its pretty clear that our bodies are messed up after we birth a tiny human being, what can acupuncture do to help your body after you have had a baby?
Agreed, it’s amazing what a woman’s body goes thru. I’ll break it down into a few categories…
Immediately Post Labor
If you have a vaginal birth there may be tearing that is painful and awkward but there are topical products that help you to recover faster.
Topical Kit: Burn Cream, Aloe, Sitz bath + sitz bath herbs, and disposable underwear.
Burn Cream or Ching Wan Hung is an ointment used similar to Neosporin that I recommend women put on the tear itself. Burn cream has a sesame seed base versus petroleum so it will be able to breath and that will help increase the healing time plus it contains herbs that help promote skin growth.
Aloe is another topical product I recommend women put directly on the area to help the healing process. Make sure it is 100% aloe and there is no alcohol in the product.
The sitz bath and herbs are also important. You may either use a sitz bath (basically a bucket you sit in), run a full bath or make a compress. There are several versions of these but they contain herbs such as Calendula, Witch Hazel, and Yarrow. Here are a few options:
If you’ve had a C-Section than you will have scar tissue that it is important to massage and work on once you feel comfortable doing that to help prevent scar tissue. You can also use a special tool and technique to massage and work it, which is called Gua Sha. Any acupuncturist should be able to show you how to do this. And the typical tool is a Chinese soup spoon but something flat that you can hold with a rounded edge is the most important aspects of it.
After you get home and settled and are ready to start taking care yourself acupuncture, massage and herbs can help you recover and restore your body and mind. We recommend women continue treatment whenever they feel up to getting out of the house (typically around 2-4 weeks after birth). The 3 months following the birth are very important for your long term health. Taking the proper time to recover will help you many fold down the line. Every woman and body is different though, so try not to expect too much but just do what you can. Have your mother, girl friend or whoever on the phone to vent when you get overwhelmed.
Acupuncture Protocol: We generally recommend women come in every 2-3 weeks for 4-6 sessions and then wean back as needed after that. We like to go over herbal options depending on what is needed and wanted. Also after a couple months we can explore abdominal cupping to help regain your shape!
On a side note, a lot of parents in develop or exacerbate shoulder, elbow or wrist issues after the baby is born as well. So we help treat that pain as well.
12). I have heard that some states cover acupuncture treatments under their insurance plan. Will my insurance cover my treatments?
That is individual to each particular plan you have. Call your insurance and see if acupuncture is a “covered benefit” and if it is also ask if there are stipulations on who can do it. In-network, out-of-network, only medical doctors or Chiropractors, or Licensed Acupuncturists, etc. Here’s a little article about “Knowing Your Acupuncturists” though, there can be a big difference in the type of treatment you can get depending on who you go to.
13). I remember reading something about acupuncture and IVF, and higher success rates for women who do acupuncture with the fertility treatments. What are the deets on this topic?
Acupuncture can be used to increase the success rates of IVF throughout the process as well as immediately before and after on the day of transfer. The most conclusive research out there that I’ve seen so far relates to acupuncture’s ability to manage and decrease stress, allowing the body to accept and implant the embryo, leading to greater success rates.
Here are a few research articles if you’d like to read more:
Effects of acupuncture combined Chinese materia medica for tonifying shen and soothing gan on the anxiety and depression of patients with in vitro fertilization and embryo transplantation and on the treatment outcomes
The relationship between perceived stress, acupuncture, and pregnancy rates among IVF patients: A pilot study
Acupuncture Reduces Protein Linked to Stress in First of Its Kind Animal Study
Thank you all for you time and please let me know if you have other questions. I can be reached at Rebecca@healingfoundationschicago.com or by contacting Healing Foundations.
2112 W Belmont Ave
Chicago, IL 60618
Rebecca Christy Gemperle started Healing Foundations with Lisa Alvarez in 2010. She graduated with honors from Midwest College of Oriental Medicine in 2007 after which she spent time studying in China and volunteering at a Birthing Clinic in Bali. Oriental Medicine in particular speaks to Rebecca as a way for her to offer a variety of healing techniques for a diverse set of health conditions ranging from anxiety to infertility. Rebecca strives to create an environment where individuals can step away from the every day stresses of life and feel relaxed, safe, important, accepted and listened to. For Rebecca, seeing patients regain hope and get excited about their health is the greatest reward.