ACUPUNCTURE AND HERBAL TREATMENT FOR MENSTRUAL PROBLEMS
A woman’s menstrual cycle plays such a fundamental and central role in her life that it is an area where much imbalance can occur. As such, gynecological disorders make up more than half of the patient complaints that we treat with herbal medicine acupuncture.
Unfortunately it is also an area where there is a lack of conventional treatments. In broad terms, for a young woman with menstrual irregularity, period pains, pmt, lack of periods etc, the main suggested treatment is to use the contraceptive pill. While this may sometimes work, it has always seemed odd to me have a single treatment for all these different conditions. If a woman is menopausal and having similar problems, then the suggestion of hysterectomy arises much too quickly. Chinese medicine does not consider the removal of any part of the body can be done without creating great disharmony throughout the rest of the body. In general, there is a great lack of treatment options for an area which some reports suggests affects up to 90% of women at some time or another.
But the better news is that acupuncture and herbs have been treating menstrual irregularities for more than 2000 years!
A woman’s menstrual cycle is often a very delicate hormonal balance. When this delicate balance is disturbed by various stresses and strains of life, problems occur. Acupuncture is a very subtle treatment, looking closely and carefully at what imbalance has occurred and this is why it is particularly effective in treating gynecological disorders.
Chinese medicine has recognized gynecology for around 3500 years, and has always been one of its main areas. Its development over the centuries has led it to be a very subtle and sophisticated system while at the same time maintaining a very simple basis.
I find that with my patients, many women consider menstrual irregularities as normal. Because they have always had painful periods or PMT or other symptoms and have never had treatment, they consider it will always be this way. This is not true, and while it may not able to help everyone there are a lot of people that can benefit from treatment.
The most common complaints treated are.
PMT/Premenstrual bloating/headaches or breast tenderness
Acupuncture for Labor Promotion
What happens when your due date comes and goes without the onset of labor? If you are lucky your caregiver allows you to go two weeks past your due date but most hospital’s policy is to induce at 41 weeks. This means that the anxious couple now is given a deadline within which to produce measurable contractions or they face induction with pitocin or a caesarean section. The uterus rarely responds favorably to this extra tension and stress and many times the couple is a victim of circumstance when trying to avoid medical induction. Pitocin will begin labor no matter if the mother’s body is ready or not. While the side effects of this drug on children are not fully known, in the mother some observable side effects include intense contraction pain, nausea, vomiting, cardiac arrhythmia, pelvic hematoma, etc. This explains why most women are eager to find a different solution to the induction dilemma.
Recently the scientific research community has been paying particular attention to the beneficial effects of acupuncture on labor induction. Chapel Hill’s very own University of North Carolina is conducting a study to assess the outcomes of women who use acupuncture to induce labor. It is thought that the acupuncture may stimulate the release of prostaglandins and oxytocin, the natural hormone that pitocin mimics. The outcomes of further studies are anxiously awaited as it may help a large percentage of birthing mothers avoid the negative effects of medical induction.
What is it like and how many treatments will I need?
Generally a woman can begin treatments to stimulate labor the week of her due date. Most of the time it is recommended for the woman to receive treatments daily in order to maintain the momentum created after each session. The effects are not as instantaneous as a medical induction. Depending on how far into pre-labor the woman’s body is will dictate how many sessions will be needed.
During the acupuncture treatment the mom may notice increased movement of her baby and some contractions. Most women experience increased contractions in the evening and night after a session. Each subsequent day of treatment the mom should feel stronger contractions and like she is moving more in the direction of active labor.
For some women they may only need one treatment to put them over the edge and into labor. Many first time moms need more than one treatment and depending on how soft and dilated her cervix was at the beginning of treatment, we may suggest using other things in addition to the acupuncture. This may be nipple stimulation, walking, sex, herbs, etc.
ADVANTAGES OF ACUPUNCTURE PRE-BIRTH
According to the theories of Chinese medicine, the woman’s body right before birth presents an optimal time to balance hormone levels, strengthen the organ systems and make sure her and her baby’s bodies are in harmony. Acupuncture treatments leading up to birth have proven to increase the likelihood of delivering on the due date, reduce the time of labor and substantially reduce the need for interventions and caesarean sections. Certain points are known to help the cervix soften and dilate and others aid in helping the ligaments relax and loosen for the easy passage of the baby. Women who receive pre-birth acupuncture and do not go into labor spontaneously usually respond very well and quickly to induction either by acupuncture or medication.
HOW MANY TREATMENTS WILL I NEED?
In my experience working with pregnant women, I recommend that women begin to come in for acupuncture treatments periodically throughout the third trimester. The time for the treatments gives the woman a chance to lie quietly and connect with her baby, preparing for the birth. Regular acupuncture through early third trimester can help convince the baby to take a head-down position and avoid the scare of being breech. Starting week 36 I have women come in once a week and we work to get her body ready for the labor process. The acupuncture is gentle and the experience is deeply relaxing for the mom-to-be.
Breech presentation refers to a fetal position, which is not optimal for vaginal delivery. This is diagnosed usually around the 32nd or 34th week of pregnancy. It is most often followed with an appointment for what is called a ‘manual version’, when the doctor maneuvers the baby into a more optimal position with their hands through your belly. Women hear about acupuncture and moxibustion at this time and we receive many calls wondering if it works. The answer: Sometimes! It is not a 100% effective way to turn a baby but it definitely works for many women. Most success will be had if a woman begins trying to turn her baby before 34 weeks. After that time, things get very tight inside the uterus and the baby is less likely to move on his/her own.
HOW DOES ACUPUNCTURE AND MOXIBUSTION HELP BABIES IN BREECH POSITION?
The answer to this question is that it is not very well understood. There is one point near the end of the little toe on either foot that has been used empirically for turning breech babies for thousands of years. Moxibustion, also known as moxa, burned near this point is the traditional way to stimulate it. Moxa is a Chinese herb that has been processed and formed into a cigar-shaped stick, which burns very slowly and gives off penetrating warmth.
Years of experience have shown us that it is also important to include a full body acupuncture treatment to help the woman relax and let go of any tension she may unconsciously be holding in her body. Acupuncture almost always stimulates the baby to move a bit with the rise in endorphins and this combined with deep relaxation can also help the baby turn. During the treatment, we teach the woman how to apply the moxa herself and send her home with plenty of sticks. She then gets someone to burn the moxa near the points a couple of times a day between appointments.
HOW MANY TREATMENTS WILL I NEED?
That depends on your baby! As soon as people start coming in for treatment, we can keep treating periodically up until the scheduled manual version. Once or twice a week is a normal plan. As mentioned above, you will also be given moxa to take home and give yourself treatments in the interim. Some babies turn right away during the first treatment, others are more stubborn.
Most women experience some level of nausea during early pregnancy. It is almost never only in the morning so the term morning sickness is fairly inaccurate. Usually the nausea is worse when the stomach becomes empty, is paired with a hyper-sensitive sense of smell, food aversions and sometimes a bad taste in the mouth. Doctors believe all of these symptoms occur because of the rise in progesterone and other pregnancy hormones in the body. Once these stabilize around the start of the second trimester, nausea is usually greatly reduced. Those first two months can be fairly miserable and intensified by the worry that you aren’t consuming enough nutrients to feed the developing embryo and fetus. Sometimes your doctor must use prescription medicines when nausea leads to vomiting and dehydration. Oftentimes the medicine does not completely alleviate the nausea and acupuncture can still offer additional relief.
HOW CAN CHINESE MEDICINE AND ACUPUNCTURE HELP WITH NAUSEA?
While we are still discovering how exactly acupuncture affects different conditions, in the case of nausea during pregnancy it is most likely due to the fact that acupuncture can help balance hormones and also raise endorphin levels, which make us feel better in general. Dr. Reidy will first listen to your description of symptoms. Every woman has a different experience of nausea- whether it is worse when they eat, dependant on what foods they eat, whether they have a bad taste in their mouth and how severe the nausea is. Dr. Reidy will then be able to give you an estimation of success with acupuncture, how long that might take and create a treatment plan. Most women feel like they can tolerate food and smells much better after acupuncture treatments.
HOW MANY TREATMENTS WILL I NEED?
Every woman responds differently to acupuncture treatment. Sometimes a woman may only need two treatments to feel better and some women need to come regularly for a month before they maintain a good effect. A general rule of thumb when trying acupuncture for nausea is to come for treatments twice a week for two weeks. This is ample time to evaluate whether acupuncture is going to be an effective remedy for you. Women who have not had acupuncture before may need two treatments to feel positive effects because the nature of a new experience is that it may be difficult to fully relax during the session.
WHAT ARE THE TREATMENTS LIKE AND DO THEY HURT?
Women new to acupuncture may have reservations about voluntarily using needles to cure an already miserable situation. This is completely understandable and it should be known that acupuncture is hardly ever an uncomfortable experience for anyone. Especially when a patient is feeling sick and puny, the acupuncturist will take even more care and be very gentle when giving treatments. Women are always pleasantly surprised to find that they can barely feel the needles at all and feel refreshed and relaxed after the treatment.
Pregnancy is a very special time for women that can also present some unwelcome physical and emotional challenges. It is often very overwhelming to experience the many changes in your body and confusing as to how to best take care of yourself nutritionally and medically. Many of the options such as over-the-counter medicines, some forms of exercise, and many prescription drugs are no longer available and women turn to alternatives for natural help for many common pregnancy discomforts. Thankfully, acupuncture and sometimes even carefully prescribed herbs can make a world of difference in making your pregnancy the joyful and exciting experience you dreamed it would be.
Science has very carefully evaluated the safety of acupuncture during pregnancy and found it to have no negative side effects to the mother or the baby. With this assurance, many institutions are currently completing studies in the many different applications of acupuncture during pregnancy. The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill is conducting a study on the benefits of using acupuncture to induce labor. Women should feel very confident in utilizing a form of medicine that has been helping women during pregnancy for more than 3,000 years.