By Dr. Alexandra Garcia
As an acupuncturist I’ve seen a recent rise in interest in acupuncture for fertility and pregnancy. As more doctors learn about the research supporting the efficacy of acupuncture, more patients are being referred by their care providers for conception support, back pain during pregnancy, and breech presentation.
I’m encouraged to see that the word is getting out - and I’d like to share some of the other great ways that acupuncture can help people during and immediately following pregnancy.
First, let’s talk about what acupuncture actually does.
Acupuncture has ancient roots and now science has a modern explanation for its mode of action. Traditionally acupuncture is explained as a means of manipulating the energy that flows in channels through the body. Today scientists are discovering that the channels are intricately intertwined with the modern concept of fascia - a connective tissue that wraps through the body and generates electricity under pressure. Acupuncture has been shown to shift the nervous system into a "rest and recover" state. From here a range of imbalances can be righted: muscle pain, digestive difficulty, insomnia, conception challenges, and others.
When it comes to pregnancy, labor, and the postpartum period acupuncture can be a powerful resource for some common complaints. Here are just a few ways it can be used:
In the last month of pregnancy there's a wave of physical and biological changes preparing the body for labor. As the days count down, people feel this physically in the final weeks as braxton hicks contractions. My teacher has a way of explaining this stage of pregnancy: “It’s like when you’re in a stadium practicing to do the wave. The first time it’s kind of sporadic, with different pockets of people joining in. Eventually, everyone realizes what’s happening and you get this big coordinated effect. Your body is calling on all systems to choreograph the perfect wave: the birth contraction.”
Acupuncture excels at syncing the body’s systems: Endocrine, Muscular, Nervous. By switching off our internal “fight-or-flight” system, acupuncture lets the body know that it’s a safe time to start practicing for the big day.
Studies have shown that people who have acupuncture in the last month of pregnancy are less likely to need chemical inductions; and of those who do still need an induction, the people who use acupuncture end up using smaller doses of those medications.
Labor & Delivery
Acupuncture can be a wonderful resource during labor. Of course acupuncture is excellent for pain management but there’s a whole lot more that it has to offer. In hospitals that provide acupuncture during labor, the practitioner can help support a smooth progression through each of the phases of labor. Acupuncture techniques can be used to encourage regular contractions, progress cervical dilation, and sustain a laboring person’s energy through the process.
Traditionally, acupuncturists view pregnancy in 4 steps: The three trimesters (12 weeks each), and the postpartum period (a fourth trimester of 12 weeks). They are all considered equal parts in the big picture of pregnancy.
In the weeks after birth, the parent’s body is intensely focussed on recovery. This creates a great opportunity for overall rejuvenation. Acupuncture can help you harness this postpartum energy to reset your body’s foundation. It’s a unique chance to address issues from before the pregnancy - things like painful PMS patterns, digestive difficulties, and neuromuscular pain.
With weekly acupuncture and a good self-care practice, the weeks after labor can be channeled to build the strong foundation you need for the joyous challenges of the adventure ahead: parenthood.
People are often surprised to learn that acupuncture can be used to treat infants and children. In fact, acupuncture has a long history of treating children - the Chinese recognized pediatrics as a separate area for training and medical specialization several hundred years before western medicine stopped treating children simply as mini-adults. As research is emerging about the value of (often needle-free) acupuncture for newborns, toddlers, and children, more hospitals are starting to include practitioners on their pediatric staff.
Acupuncture can be used in all stages of life as part of a comprehensive wellness strategy. During pregnancy, labor, and postpartum it can be incorporated into a healthcare plan to complement the work you do with your obstetrician or midwife.
If you’re in NYC and interested in trying out acupuncture you can book an appointment right here at Love Child.
But for those of you reading from other cities, here are some tips for finding a qualified practitioner near you. When considering acupuncturists you’ll want to be sure that you chose someone who is licensed to practice in your state. This indicates that they’ve gone through several years of training in a master's level program and that they’ve completed state and/or national board exams. You should also check that they have experience working in the area of obstetrics and/or pediatrics. Your doctor, midwife, or doula may be able to refer you to someone who they regularly work with. Finally, look for a practitioner conveniently located so that you can easily make time for regular visits, and - most importantly - chose someone who makes you feel comfortable and cared for!
Dr. Alexandra Garcia holds a doctorate in acupuncture and East Asian medicine. Her practice focuses on pediatrics and obstetrics. She also has training in facial rejuvenation, pain management, and general wellness.
Before earning her doctorate, Alexandra completed a B.A. at Middlebury College and an M.S. from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. She currently splits her practice time between Love Child Yoga and NYU Lutheran’s Labor and Delivery Department in Brooklyn.
Alexandra supports her clients using a holistic approach. Her treatments weave together a variety of modalities including acupuncture, cupping, herbal formulations, bodywork, and dietary guidance using the frameworks provided by Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Cardini, F. & Weixin, H. (1998). Moxibustion for Correction of Breech Presentation: A Randomized Control Trial. JAMA 11, 1580-1584.
Gaudernack, L.C., Forbord, S. & Hole, E. (2006). Acupuncture administered after spontaneous rupture of membranes at term significantly reduces the lengths of birth and use of oxytocin: A randomized control trial. Acta Obstetrica et Gynecologia, 85, 1348-1353.
Greenspan, M. (2005). Acupuncture as a Means to Promote Full Term Vaginal Delivery (Doctoral Dissertation). Yo San University, Los Angeles.
0u, H., Greeven, A., & Belger, M. (2016). The first Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother. ABRAMS, New York.
Scott, J. & Barlow, T. (1999). Acupuncture in the Treatment of Children. Eastland Press, Seattle.