by: Tony Galis
When we were pregnant with our first child, one of the things that struck me was how in the dark we felt going into birth and raising children. Here is an activity that 74% of adults in this country engage in (Gallup, 2013), along with countless ancestors (your parents did it, guaranteed), and we have almost no generational knowledge base to support us in the process.
Traditional or indigenous medical systems have typically preserved significant wisdom and practical application of that wisdom pertaining to pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum care. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is one such system and, as a practitioner, I would like to give a brief overview of how Chinese medicine can offer critical support and intervention before, during, and after pregnancy.
First, it’s important to recognize that this knowledge comes from direct clinical experience accumulated over thousands of years of caring for patients in all stages of life. Traditional Chinese Medicine is a complete medical system that treats all kinds of conditions in every aspect of the population. Although it is sometimes mislabeled as such, this is not an “alternative” health system being extrapolated on to address women’s concerns around having children. This is an ancient life-science which has been intimately engaged at every step of the birth process since the beginning of our days on earth.
(Note: Though Acupuncture is the most commonly known modality within Chinese medicine, it is certainly not the only one. In our practice, we just as often employ herbal medicine, diet/lifestyle therapy, cupping, and moxibustion among other modalities, in treatment.)
TCM’s role in enhancing fertility is well-known and well-documented. Most large fertility clinics in major cities across the world employ acupuncturists in order to increase chances of success. Chinese medicine has the ability to prepare the body for pregnancy by determining the (often sub-clinical) imbalances that are making pregnancy difficult. Once these imbalances are corrected, the body often responds with success.
During pregnancy, TCM continues to care for the expectant mother through the ups and downs of life, while preserving the gift in the womb. Aches and pains, colds and flus, long standing conditions that persist through pregnancy all need to be continually addressed, and a natural medicine offers gentle and effective treatment. Thousands of years of clinical consistency provide clarity on exactly which interventions are appropriate during pregnancy and which are not.
Problems specific to pregnancy are also treated quite effectively with Chinese medicine. Nausea and loss of appetite so common in the first trimester respond well to treatment. And during the third trimester, when fluid retention can cause additional inflammation and physical pain, TCM can help reduce swelling and address injury.
There are two specific applications of Chinese medicine during pregnancy which are helpful in turning a baby to a more favorable position, and labor induction/ripening. There is a long history of both of these treatments being used successfully and we see significant results when they’re applied at the right time during pregnancy.
This is perhaps Chinese medicine’s greatest contribution to the mother and her family…it is also often the most overlooked. The need for postpartum care remains one of the most significant oversights in women’s health and I am continually surprised in the clinic when I trace a particularly stubborn health concern back to poor care following childbirth. The problem stems from, quite simply, a lack of understanding.
Chinese medicine has more tools that support a woman after childbirth than can be mentioned in a blog post. But, its biggest strength may be its recognition of the need for care. A midwife once commented to me that childbirth is the Mt. Everest of physiological function. Well said. If that were the end of the process, it would still require intensive recovery. But of course, childbirth is just the beginning of the process. Breastfeeding, sleep deprivation, and adapting to new family structures can take a significant toll on a woman who is already recovering from the most physically demanding event she may likely ever experience. The importance of postpartum care simply cannot be overstressed.
At Thrive Integrative Medicine, we have multiple practitioners who focus a sizeable portion of their practice on the care of women in pregnancy, through childbirth, and into the postpartum period. If there is any way we can serve you, please let us know. And as always, feel free to come by or contact us with questions.