If you are not yet pregnant, but are hoping to conceive in the next few months, now is a great time to visit the clinic for pre-conception planning and preparation. Growing a healthy baby is one of the most important and significant things you will ever do. Ensuring that your own health and nutrition is optimal before you conceive is a vital step towards the birth of your healthy baby.
Both Traditional Chinese medicine and the naturopathic healing tradition understand that a baby is only as healthy as the “soil” it is grown in! In the same way an expert gardener spends months nurturing and enriching the soil before planting a seed, both healing traditions encourage “tending the soil” through optimizing the health of both the mother and father to be, before conception occurs.
Acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutritional support and the use of clinical nutritional supplementation are all important tools to enhance the health and vitality of the future parents.
Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs work in a variety of ways to prepare the body for pregnancy, and to support a healthy pregnancy and birth. In preparation for conception, acupuncture may increase blood flow to the ovaries, optimizing the function of the ovaries, and the development of the eggs. Acupuncture may also increase blood flow through the uterus, promoting a healthy endometrial lining and optimizing the function of the placenta. A strong placenta ensures increased delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the growing baby, with resulting healthy development and weight gain.
There is little that can compare with the awe inspiring miracle of conception, pregnancy and child birth. From the fusion of a microscopic egg and sperm comes the creation of a completely unique and individual human life. The journey of carrying this budding life for nine months is for most women, the most rewarding and miraculous journey of their life. Hoping to optimise the health of their unborn child, many women radically change their diet and lifestyle upon learning of their pregnancy. Cigarettes, alcohol, late nights, and junk food are often ditched in favour of a cleaner, healthier lifestyle. While healthy living during the nine months of pregnancy is an essential part of bearing a strong, healthy baby, optimising the pre-conception health of the mother (and father) is equally important. The health of the parents at the time of conception can strongly influence the ease with which conception occurs, and the resulting health of the fetus and mother during pregnancy.
The ancient Chinese were some of the first advocates of pre conception planning, with traditional Chinese medicine practices stretching back almost 2500 years. Unlike western medicine which has traditionally focused on men as subjects, Chinese medical records reveal medicine aimed solely at women from around the time of Christ, and the documented use of acupuncture and herbs for the treatment of infertility stretches back to 476BC in China.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) offers a truly holistic approach to healing, with its emphasis on the integration of body, mind and spirit as a unified whole. Whatever the particular symptoms a patient seeks treatment for, the emphasis is always on understanding and correcting the underlying energy imbalances which have caused the manifestation of symptoms. The aim is never to simply relieve symptoms, but more importantly to rebalance “disordered” energy to genuinely enhance the health and wellbeing of the patient. TCM works with energies referred to as Qi (pronounced chi) and blood, both of which circulate throughout the body in an invisible network of channels called meridians. In a healthy person these energies are strong, free flowing and balanced in relation to each other. If qi or blood becomes excessive or depleted, or the flow becomes blocked and “stagnant”, symptoms of illness will begin to manifest. These energy imbalances result from various external and internal factors such as emotional or environmental stress, poor nutrition, overwork, lack of sleep, emotional suppression, excessive alcohol consumption and the use of drugs.
A typical acupuncture consultation begins with a thorough case taking. This is followed with Chinese pulse diagnosis and tongue diagnosis to allow the practitioner to build a picture of the unique energy patterns of the individual patient. Acupuncture points are then selected to gently rebalance disordered energy. Chinese medicine has identified more than 2000 such points. Sterile, fine stainless steel needles are gently inserted into the points, to a depth of approximately 2 – 5mm. There is usually very little sensation with the needle insertion. Once the needles are inserted they are gently twisted to stimulate the flow of the qi in the meridian. This often causes a sensation of heaviness or a dull ache around the needle. The needles are then retained for 15 to 20 minutes. During a treatment it is not uncommon to feel deeply relaxed. Sometimes the sounds of snoring emanate from the treatment room!
TCM practitioners believe that the state of the mother’s blood and qi at the time of conception is a significant factor in the resulting health of the pregnancy and baby. If there are severe energy imbalances or deficiencies at the time of conception, the risk of miscarriage or pregnancy abnormalities is increased. Consequently, TCM practitioners always recommend a course of several weeks of acupuncture prior to conception. If the potential father has any health issues these too should be addressed prior to conception. During the course of a normal healthy pregnancy, a monthly acupuncture treatment is usually recommended, with a more concentrated series of treatments in the last month of pregnancy, in preparation for the rigours of giving birth.
Acupuncturists are especially interested in the strength of the mother’s kidney energy (this is an energetic concept unique to TCM and does not refer to how well her actual kidneys are working). The fetus is nourished by the “essence” of the kidney meridian. TCM believes that the kidneys store the essence or congenital strength that we are born with as well as the essence or “life force” that is created each day from the nutrients in our food. If the mother conceives with weak kidney essence this may lead to a weakness of the fetus, and a lifetime predisposition to ill health in the offspring. Kidney qi deficiency is very common as a result of our fast paced, stressful lifestyle complete with chronic overwork and routine lack of sleep. Long term stress and anxiety can also weaken kidney qi, as can excessive sex (yes the Chinese believe you can have too much of this particular good thing) and chronic illness.
Kidney qi deficiency is one of the most common energy imbalances seen in women having difficulty conceiving or experiencing repeated miscarriage. In many cases, acupuncture may enhance fertility and result in conception, or allow a pregnancy to be carried to full term despite a previous history of miscarriages.
Three to six months of regular pre-conception acupuncture is recommended for such women.