Using Chinese Medicine During Pregnancy: Safety and Efficacy
Acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often effective for many conditions that arise during pregnancy, from the first trimester through labor and delivery. Women who receive acupuncture throughout their pregnancy often experience easier deliveries and a quicker recovery afterwards. At a time when it is often best to avoid medications, natural remedies and treatment modalities can be a good choice when stronger intervention is not necessary.
Chinese medicine has a long history of paying attention to and documenting potential problems with herbs and acupuncture, and there are specific acupuncture points and herbs that are strictly avoided during pregnancy, and during the postpartum period when women are breastfeeding. Applying the clarity of this long history of knowledge allows us to specifically use herbs that are nourishing and supportive for mother and baby.
There are many conditions for which herbs and acupuncture have shown to be helpful, and in general Chinese medicine can help women stay healthy and energetic during their pregnancy and help them grow healthy babies.
Some common obstetric problems that may be addressed are:
• Back pain
• Breech presentation
• Digestive problems
• Excessive or low amniotic fluid levels
• Gestational diabetes
• Intrahepatic cholestasis
• Morning sickness and hyperemesis
• Placenta previa
• Preterm labor
• Post-term non-delivery
• Sacro-iliac joint and round ligament pain
• Threatened miscarriage
• Urinary tract infections
• Vaginal infections
Health Building in the Postpartum Period
During pregnancy, there is often a great deal of focus on supporting the health of the mother as this directly affects the growth and development of her baby, but the postpartum period can be challenging with sleep deprivation and the demanding schedule of feeding a newborn. New mothers often barely have time to grab something quick to eat and getting good nutrition can be difficult to navigate. In traditional Chinese medicine, supporting a woman’s health is highly emphasized in the postpartum period. During this time, women in China follow strict guidelines regarding diet and lifestyle in order to support the return of health and vitality.
The postpartum period is considered to be a period of four to six months following the delivery, the first month being the most important time to take special care. After labor and delivery, a new mother’s qi and blood are deficient, and not until the end of the 4th month does her yin and blood become fully replenished. In Chinese medicine, this is viewed as a critical period in a woman’s life when caring for and nourish herself can have great impact on her health and vitality far into the future.
Some Basic Recommendations for the Postpartum Period
1. As difficult as it may be in these modern times, new mothers should take special care to get enough rest and nourishment. In order to help restore the circulation of qi and blood, when feeling stronger they should try to find time for regular but moderate activity such as walking. In China, during the first month after delivery, strict limitations are set so that few visitors are allowed to disturb the new mother and her immediate family, except to drop off meals.
2. Digestion tends to be somewhat weak after delivery and because there is a great demand for nutritious food in order to produce good breast milk, warm, nourishing and easy to digest foods are recommended. Traditionally, soups are particularly emphasized, along with attention to eating enough protein and vegetables, leafy greens and root veggies. Raw or cold foods and drink should be avoided as these can deplete the digestive qi and result in fatigue, problems with breast milk production, and the stagnation of qi and blood.
3. Postpartum women should stay warm and take care to avoid exposure to cold or damp through environmental factors. Acupuncture used in conjunction with moxabustion (“moxa”) treatments is a traditional part of health care at this time. Burning moxa (mugwort herb) over the lower abdomen and low back creates a sensation of gentle, penetrating warmth that deeply relaxes, vitalizes, and helps return uterine tone.
4. Heavy lifting should be avoided for the first four months in order to minimize the risk of uterine prolapse and to allow the pelvic tissues to completely heal and renew. Heavy physical work or exercise such as weight lifting should not be resumed until at least the 4th or 5th month after delivery.
5. Paying attention to diet is important in this period, as difficult as that may be when you have a newborn. Nourishing Chinese herbal teas and soups are highly recommended in the period after pregnancy and delivery. They can be particularly useful in order to:
◦ Strengthen the digestion
◦ Support the production of breast milk
◦ Treat mastitis
◦ Treat postpartum depression and insomnia
◦ Assist healing in cesarean section
◦ Restore vitality and energy
Below is a simple soup recipe to help nourish the qi and blood, support uterine healing, and help restore health and vitality in the postpartum period.
Nourish Blood and Essence Soup
2 heaping tablespoons Gou Qi Zi (Lycii)
30 grams Dang Gui (Chinese angelica)
20 pieces Shan Yao (Dioscorea)
30 Lian Zi (Lotus seeds) – soaked and drained
12 Da Zao (Red dates) – soaked and pitted
1 teaspoon grated ginger
2 cups chopped greens (kale, chard, spinach)
7-8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Whole chicken (about 3 1/2 lb)
1 yam or winter squash, diced
5 shitake mushrooms, slivered (if dry, soak first)
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup rice vinegar
All herbs in this soup are edible after cooking. Break dioscorea into small pieces and simmer for about one hour in soup stock along with the lycii berries (red “goji” berries), Dang Gui (angelica – sliced), lotus seeds, chicken, and rice vinegar. Add ginger, dates, yam, mushrooms, and any other vegetables and simmer for another 45 minutes. Add leafy greens and cook 5-10 minutes more. Season with salt to taste. Serve hot.