Using Acupuncture to Support Pregnancy and Nursing

Sami Rank, MS, L.AC, practices acupuncture and herbal medicine in Phoenix, Arizona at 3 Treasures Acupuncture. She’s mama to two breastfed boys, Ananda (7) and Narayan (3). (Full disclosure: She’s also my sister) In the past, I’ve asked her to give me treatments for relaxation and some lower back pain. It’s pretty soothing! Recently, I asked her to discuss how acupuncture can benefit a woman through pregnancy, nursing, and postpartum health.

Sami and her sons

Sami Rank, MS LAc, and her sons

“Frequently, pregnant or nursing mamas can’t take medications or supplements and so acupuncture is a great way for them to restore balance without harming the baby,” she says.

During pregnancy, Sami sees patients to treat nausea/morning sickness in the first trimester, and then sciatica, back pain, or sleep troubles later on in pregnancy.

If a woman finds out her baby is breech, an acupuncturist can use something called moxabustion to turn the baby. Sami says, “With this procedure, we burn essentially a long stick of mugwort and hold it near a certain point on the toe to stimulate heat and the energy point. This can turn a breech fetus…I don’t know exactly how; I just know that it does.”

Finally, acupuncture can help to bring on labor if the baby is ready to come out. If a woman is having a stalled labor, that’s another place where acupuncture or acupressure can come into play. According to Sami, a woman in the throes of labor could technically get a needle treatment, but who could sit still for 30 minutes? “I had acupressure during my labor with Ananda to help me progress,” she says, noting that contractions came more regularly afterward.

Once baby is here, there are acupuncture points for bringing milk in and pastes or herbal remedies for mastitis.

Sami’s training is in traditional and herbal Chinese medicine, so her practice offers placenta encapsulation. This process makes medicinal “pills” from a woman’s placenta. In conjunction with acupuncture treatments, she says the placenta pills do wonders for women’s postpartum recovery. Sami explains that in traditional Chinese medicine, “we attribute postpartum depression in part to blood loss and stagnation, low qi. This can affect everything from milk production to mood.”

Another postpartum use of moxabustion is in an eastern tradition called “mother warming.” In this case, the acupuncturist uses the moxabustion along the linea negra to “stimulate qi and blood for healthy milk supply and the mama’s own healing.”

A woman who has a cesarean delivery is likely to have adhesions and scar tissue around her incision and Sami says acupuncture can be helpful here as well. “We use massage and moxabustion to work out the scar tissues as well as needle therapy.”

In general, Sami says an acupuncture treatment lasts between 45 and 60 minutes, with the needles actually in the body for about 20 minutes. She says if a new, nursing mama could arrange this time away from her baby, even the chance to lie on the table and relax could help to restore balance to the body.

Sami says, “Stress is such a huge factor in milk supply. Acupuncture is great for stress. One treatment can bring you to euphoria…or at least back to zero!”

Acupuncture isn’t going to be a quick fix for what ails you, though. Women should expect to come back for anywhere from 3 to 10 treatments depending on how extensive a problem they’re presenting. Sami reminds us that presenting symptoms have deeper root causes, and she works with patients to heal underlying issues.

“It’s a long process because our bodies don’t just flip a switch to healthy. But! An acupuncturist will treat you in the office, so by the end of your visit you are already beginning to heal,” she says.

When seeking out an acupuncturist, women (particularly pregnant women) should ask up front whether the practitioner is a licensed acupuncturist, who has a master’s degree in the field. Many other health professionals take single courses or weekend workshops in acupuncture and might offer this service without expertise in needle depth or other safety considerations.

Have any of you used acupuncture during your pregnancy or postpartum period? Leave us a comment to tell us about your experience!

3 comments to Using Acupuncture to Support Pregnancy and Nursing

  • Debra Kuhn

    My mother went through a couple acupuncture treatments because she had horrible morning sickness. Now, she swears by it and tells all of her friends how well it worked for her. I think that everybody should at least give it a chance! I will be trying it once I get pregnant.

  • lita emianita

    pregnant womens are more fragile to every kind of treatment and drugs. so what about the acupunture do with their body? i ever do some acupunture and what i feel are so much pain on my back. i can’t wondering if it happen to pregnant women.. is there any complication or even rules to avoid it?

  • Lita, acupuncture is very safe for pregnant women. There are only a few acupuncture points we avoid and all licensed acupuncturists who have been through a proper Chinese Medicine school are aware of these points. A pregnant woman’s best assurance is to make sure that the acudoc is a licensed acupuncturist, not a naturopath, MD, or chiropractor who only took a few weekends course.

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