Discussion of the uses of acupuncture in obstetrics.

Acupuncture, herbal medicine and energy healing (chigong) are all part of the very old system of healing known as Traditional Chinese Medicine.. Currently TCM is very much a part of main stream medicine in China and the Far East. In Chinese General Hospitals they also have Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine departments. In China it is not unusual for a Western Medicine Doctor  to refer a patient to the acupuncture unit for treatment while they are  an inpatient within the hospital.

For example for treatment of Asthma, sometimes the modern bronchodilator drugs do not take effect or a person becomes resistant to the antibiotics given in acute asthmatic situation, if it is due to infection. The acupuncturist can relief the symptoms greatly by using specific acupuncture points which relax athe lungs in “bronchospasm”, and other points to help clear infection and other points to calm the mind.

For acute pain, if a person cannot take morphine for any particular reason, acupuncture works very effectively and quickly, such as in the situation of acute renal colic, (kidney stone pain) or sciatica.  Acupuncture is also very much widely used in surgery when a person does not want general anaesthesia. It was used to block pain sensations long before the use of epidural or spinal anaesthesia was discovered, which we in the West have become very much accustomed to, such as in the cases of surgery for orthopaedic procedures and  to block the pain in labour. The advantages of acupuncture for anaesthesia lie in the quick recovery of sensation compared with epidural  and also in childbirth the fact that there is no sedating effect on the baby. Some women are disconcerted by the total lock of feeling and also the difficulty in emptying the bladder during and after delivery, necessitating at times a catheter. The incidence for epidural is probably very much less amongst societies where there is very much a merging of the two systems of medicine. In the last 40 years Traditional Chinese Medicine has gradually become more accepted  in our society, and in 1976 the World Health Organisation officially recognised that acupuncture alone was effective in treating a large number of illnesses and complaints.

In Ireland and in the United Kingdom  obstetrics is the main area where it has been accepted by the medical doctors and midwives and therefore is becoming more and more integrated within the Western Medical system . There are acupuncture units in the UK which liaise very closely with the Maternity Hospitals and also with Infertility clinics.

Research has shown that there is a definite increase in success of implantation of the ova ( egg), during invetro-fertilization (IVF), when acupuncture has been used before and after the procedure.  Acupuncture with or without herbal medicine has also  helped many couples who have indeed tried various infertility treatments unsuccessfully and have used TCM as a last resort.  Currently in Ireland there are many more acupuncturists qualifying from the many schools which are now in operation, compared to 15 years ago when there were only  2 main colleges for TCM. It is always a treat when wanting to use acupuncture for such matters as infertility or pregancy, to have both an acupuncturist and a midwife.  Women are at last realising that they can enhance the experience of labour by being very present and connected to what is happening both to her and her baby, rather than numbing out the experience which can happen with the use of Pethidine which is a narcotic, and with the anaesthesia of the epidural which totally blocks all sensation. The effects of both drugs have a depressant effect on the baby in the womb.. It is a known fact now that the baby indeed suffers greatly during the birthing process.  The suffering can be made more intense if the mother is also very frightened and afraid of the process.

Acupuncture works beautifully by enhancing the effecacy of the contractions without increasing the pain of them, which can happen with oxytocin, a hormone naturally occurring in the body, and which is commonly used in hospitals to  augment or to start off the labour, intraveniously to increase the rate and strength of the contractions. The effect of the  acupuncture needles calms the mother very quickly and helps her to have strength and energy for her labour. She is able to move around during the labour as the tiny needles can be secured by tape. The effect goes through to the baby  in a positive way, as can be seen by the monitoring of the baby’s heartbeat. In labour if in hospital, women now have more choice than they would have before over which method of pain relief, now that acupuncture has been recognised by the doctors and midwives, and is used in conjunction with the western medicine model. It would be a total acceptance if when an epidural did not take effect adequately enough, as can happen, and the midwife and obstetrition then called upon the services of the acupuncturist to give pain relief. Acupuncture during labour also gives the mother a sense of empowerment throughout with less likelyhood of complications as there is also less need for intervention.  Women experiencing  home birth deliveries are using this method more often now as there is very little else offered by way of painrelief, at home,  in this country.

During Pregnancy there are many minor ailments which a women is expected to just put up with and which there is no safe treatment for in Western medicine.

Now, it is a well known fact that morning sickness, and the extreme form, known as  hyperemesis –  continuous vomitting( which can leave a person and the baby in danger,) responds very well  to acupuncture. In the extreme cases a person is hospitalised and intramuscular medication given to stop vomiting, is given. Sometimes this does not have the full effect required.( Anaesthetists have done alot of research in the use of an acupuncture point called “Neiguan,” which is near the wrist, in the post operative treatment of nausea and sickness.  They have realised it is as effective if not more effective than the commonly used Stemetil anti-sickness drug.) The use of acupuncture in conjunction  for example can ensure good circulatory blood flow between the placenta and mother is maintained which is really important for the health of the growing baby particularly if the mother is unable to eat during this time.

In the case of kidney infections which are common amongst pregnant women, it is not advisable to use antibiotics. Acupuncture is incredibly successful in treating kidney complaints. It effects the energy of the kidneys and the area around the kidneys, which corresponds to the adrenal glands.  Adrenal glands secrete contisone, which is an antiinflammatory hormone, and which is needed in times of acute infection and inflammation.So there is a stimulation of these glands, whilst the infection is expelled through the  stimulated kidneys.

In asthmatic conditions during pregnancy it is a problem sometimes as certain drugs normally used for asthma are ill advised during pregnancy. Again as often seen to be done in the Chinese general hospitals, the use of bronchospasm medication, is often replaced with acupuncture. Women who are on longterm anticonvulsant or antidepressant medication often have to stop them while pregnant, and this of course can be worrying, so again the use of acupuncture can be benificial during pregnancy in these situations.

Post natally when a mother is recovering from  the labour and is trying to establish lactation, acupuncture can be very soothing to the soul.. It causes a deep sense of wellbeing, and in this time it is preferable if there is peace and calmness for both mother and baby. Milk supply can be effected by anxiety and tiredness, and malnourishment, and of course pain.. All of these can be alleviated by acupuncture. The dreaded mastitis, which is infection and inflammation of the breast tissue, has caused many women to give up breast feeding altogether, sometimes due to ill advice. It is possible to alleviate the painful condition very quickly, both with herbs and acupuncture. It is a good idea to explore ways of avoiding antibiotics if at all possible during this time. Antibiotics have their uses, but there are other ways of helping clear this infection so ensuring there is no interference with the continuity of the nursing baby.

The treatment of babies and toddlers with acupuncture is very simple and swift.. The needles are so fine they rarely make an impression on the babies.. It is wonderful to see how quickly a colicky baby can be relieved of their symptoms. or a child with eczema, or acute earache. Constipation can be a big problem,, often alleviated when a mother looks at her diet,, when nursing . This can be also allevieted swiftly.

Many women who are diagnosed with Post natal Depression, and are treated by antidepressant medication,  are told  to stop breast feeding. Feelings of  failure and deep sense of guilt, can be a part of the sense of despair which accompanies the feelings of this so called ‘depression’.  Midwives prefer to call it “post natal syndrome”. The reason being that the symptoms are not always a clear cut case of depression . The symptoms are of extreme exhaustion, and with lack of interest in sex, and a sense of needing to cocoon oneself from the world with a  feeling of unreality, at times.  A sense of not being able to function well without help.  All of this can in fact be attributed to lack of sleep. It is a well  known fact that without sleep for more that 3 days, we can loose all sense of reality, and feel hopeless, irritable can arise.  In Chinese Medicine system of diagnosis, Postnatal Syndrome, is usually diagnosed as “Blood Deficiency Syndrome”. This referring to the energy of Blood, which often become compromised postnatally for at least 6 weeks or more. Nowadays, so much is expected of new mothers, both by society and by the women themselves.  They need to stay at home for at least a month, with someone there to help do the daily things normally done about the place.  Time made for the mother and baby to bond, and for the feeding pattern to be established is most important.  Stresses of daily life however are in many cases continued almost as soon as birth has taken place.  Taking nourishing herbs such as nettle and dandalion and eating nourishing foods are so important for recovery. Also postnatally having such treatments as acupuncture quickly help a person to restore “postnatal Qi”. It is Qi which after all nourishes blood.  The mind becomes settled and calm when we have had good rest and food, and are surrounded by other supporting factors in the first 3 months of the baby’s life. Use of antidepressants can be helpful to aid a mother for a short term period of a few days when she has not been able to sleep, but if she is breast feeding there are definately other alternatives which assist sleep, such as herbal and homeopathic remedies. Treatment in this area unfortunately has not yet been a place of integration between the medical profession and the Acupuncture/herbalist profession.

Midwife-acupuncture clinics covered by the National health service,(NHS) are becoming more the norm in the uk. It would be wonderful to see more facilities being created in Ireland. Currently  in Ireland, an acupuncture obstetric service is in the process of being linked to a well known London clinic, known as the Zita West Clinic. Zita is a midwife acupuncturist, who was the first midwife to be employed by the NHS in her hospital, to work as a combined acupuncturist midwife. Needless to say her origional clinics quickly filled up so successful and popular were her treatments.

Kate Curtis qualified in 1987 as a midwife, and in 1994 as an acupuncturist. She has been working in the field of combined acupuncturist/midwife since, treating people with infertility, and helping couples release fear around parent-hood and labour itself.