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Nurturing Mother and Baby: Chinese Medicine During the Perinatal Time

The perinatal experience can be intense. Beautiful and transformative in so many ways, yes...but it's also a lot to deal with and so many women are left hanging in between their official checkups. I birthed three babies in four years while attending acupuncture school, and I honestly don't know how I would have been able to do so had I not been getting regular treatments in the student clinic as well as during class. Let's talk about how Chinese medicine can help with common issues that arise during this time.

Pre-conception: one area in which Chinese medicine excels is in regulating the menstrual cycle. If a woman is hoping to conceive, this is obviously a key factor. Chinese medicine breaks the menstrual cycle into four phases, each with it's own treatment principle. If one wants to optimize fertility, it is generally recommended to focus on regulating the cycle for a few months before attempting to conceive. This focus on optimizing the cycle not only lets us know for sure when the mother to be is ovulating, but also helps nourish healthy follicles and create a warm, cozy environment in which a fertilized embryo can settle in and get comfy for the next 9 months. Now, I didn't know all this yet when I started acupuncture school. I knew I wanted to have children, which was why I was changing careers. But my cycles had never been regular, and I was concerned that I might struggle with getting pregnant. I was not even seeking treatment for that yet, but as it turned out just getting regular treatments for other complaints was enough to regulate my cycle and turn me into what my school's OBGYN teacher would call a "Fertile Myrtle."

First Trimester: Ah, the first trimester - all that excitement, all that joy...and then all that nausea. It's typically worst from around 7-14 weeks and gradually tapers off in the early second trimester, although some not-so-lucky women experience it throughout pregnancy (sorry, Mom). "Morning" sickness can hit at any time of day, although I always found it to be the worst on an empty stomach. Gentle acupuncture/acupressure, moxa (if the smell is tolerated), and herbal formulas can all be helpful. Food therapy is a huge part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and your provider can help you identify specific foods that may soothe your symptoms while still nourishing the growing fetus. Of course, if hyperemesis gravidarum is an issue, going to the hospital for IV fluids may still be necessary.

Second Trimester: The most fun trimester! (In my opinion). The nausea is fading, you finally look pregnant and not just bloated, you start to feel the baby move, find out the sex if you so desire, but baby's still little enough so as not to be causing severe aches and pains. Although this is generally the easiest trimester, it's still a good idea to receive regular treatments to keep mother and baby healthy.

Third Trimester: Baby's getting heavier and taking up more room, pushing mom's internal organs out of the way. This often means fatigue, low back pain, and heartburn/reflux. Also insomnia, if mom can't get comfortable at night. Again, acupuncture can help with these symptoms, as well as maintaining healthy blood pressure. I had mild gestational diabetes that I was able to control with diet, exercise, and weekly acupuncture. When I had to miss treatments due to the school clinic being closed during term breaks, it was noticeably more difficult to keep my blood sugar within range. Once full term has been reached, we can start working on preparing the body for delivery. My own labors were 7 hours, 5 hours, and 2 hours, respectively, and all were completely natural water births. We were attended by midwives at a birth center, and got to take our babies and go home to our own beds after a few hours of observation. Of course, this isn't a guarantee - some of my friends from school still needed C-sections due to complications such as pre-eclampsia, or baby getting stuck, and thank goodness that was available to them. And of course, many (or most) women prefer to birth in a hospital setting with an epidural. Whatever approach is desired or required, having a trusted support team makes all the difference.

Fourth Trimester/Post-partum: This is where our society fails so many new mothers and babies. Women (myself included) don't always have family around to help. They're just left home alone with a newborn who is completely dependent on them, while they themselves are still recovering from a massive loss of Qi and Blood even if delivery was uncomplicated. Placenta encapsulation and Chinese herbal formulas made a huge difference for me when it came to recovering my strength and establishing a milk supply. If you can't make it in for acupuncture, video consultations are available. I may be able to provide home visits within a reasonable distance as well.

Recommended Resources: While not strictly Chinese medicine, these are all resources that I've found helpful. Note: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases made through the links below.

Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler is THE guide to tracking your cycles by checking your basal body temperature every morning. When working on regulating menses, your acupuncturist will want to see your BBT chart, as this not only tells us when you're ovulating, but can give your acupuncturist clues as to the underlying pattern at play even before there are any other noticeable symptoms.

Accurately tracking one's basal body temperature requires a thermometer that measures to the hundredths of a degree. I like this one, because it is backlit (easier to use in winter, when it's still dark out) and it syncs to an app on your phone, so no need to worry about doing the charting yourself.

Reading Ina May Gaskin's books during my second pregnancy really helped me ignore previous conditioning from having seen way too many ridiculous depictions of childbirth in film and television and really tune into and trust my body during the birthing experience.

While not specifically pregnancy-related, this cookbook written by two of my professors at Pacific College is all about food therapy through the lens of Chinese medicine. It features a handy index that allows the reader to look up recipes by condition, such as nausea, heartburn, diabetes, etc. It does feature a few recipes for post-partum recovery.

Finally, here are some films that may be useful to watch with one's partner, especially if the two of you are not completely on the same page regarding delivery preferences (although, come on - the person doing the birthing should have final say, right?)

I hope you've found this information helpful, and if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to reach out! Email is always the best way to reach me.

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