Spring is fast approaching and with it the promise of more clement weather (we hope!) and longer daylight hours. As nature rouses from her winter slumber and looks ahead to the new growth of spring, we too emerge into spring “raring to go”, making plans and decisions, and determining our direction for the coming year. In Chinese Medicine, the Element associated with spring is Wood. Wood is the energy of youth and growth, of new beginnings. The Wood energy of spring is an expression of life at its strongest. It is therefore perhaps fitting that at this time we look at the role of Chinese Medicine in pregnancy and fertility.

Chinese Medicine can support your pregnancy right from the moment of conception. At a time when Western Medicine interventions have to be minimised, Chinese Medicine, in particular acupuncture, comes into its own. Those first 12 weeks of pregnancy are a proverbial rollercoaster for most women. Alongside the excitement of finding out you’re expecting comes the trepidation of wondering ‘what if it all goes wrong’. Miscarriage is obviously the biggest concern during these weeks, especially if it has happened before. However, as long as the developing embryo is medically viable, acupuncture can help avert miscarriage by supporting the mothers’ system to hold the pregnancy. Regular sessions are needed, usually one a week until the 12 week mark. During the first trimester there are, of course, physical symptoms that can manifest themselves, the most common being exhaustion (calling it fatigue or tiredness just doesn’t cut the mustard!) and morning sickness (a misnomer if ever there was one)!

Fortunately, acupuncture can effectively treat both of these issues, in addition to making you far more relaxed and calm. In fact, treatment can be so effective that if you’ve been having acupuncture before conception you may never have any adverse symptoms at all during those first weeks. I can still remember the first time a patient complained to me that she didn’t feel pregnant at all because of me! During this vulnerable time, acupuncture can also successfully treat any viral or bacterial infections you might succumb to as well as being effective against other existing conditions that you may have.

Acupuncture can continue to be used during the second and third trimester, to treat everything from pregnancy-induced headaches, constipation, pelvic and back pain, sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome, insomnia, fluid retention and haemorrhoids. When I treat patients for pelvic or back pain I often supplement acupuncture treatment with Cupping or Gua Sha and the combination is usually very effective. Many people are unaware that these conditions can be treated safely and effectively with acupuncture, although, I am glad to say, awareness is beginning to increase. There seems to be particular awareness around the use of Chinese Medicine for the turning of breech babies and also for induction of labour. Induction of labour is facilitated by the stimulation of a specific set of acupuncture points, and can be extremely effective. Sometimes one treatment is enough but occasionally a few treatments are needed. Moxibustion is a technique that uses the herb mugwort and it is this treatment that is indicated for turning breech babies. In this instance the herb has been compacted and rolled into a cigar shape. It is lit and the smoldering herb is placed close to a particular acupuncture point on the foot. The technique is taught to the mum-to-be so that she can supplement treatment at home. This technique has quite a high success rate in turning breech babies up until the 37 week mark, success rates drop after that.

Even if you sail through your pregnancy it is good to treat yourself to an acupuncture session once a month for overall health and wellbeing. Changing to a weekly appointment from 35 weeks on is recommended to prepare your body for the upcoming labour. It not only supports you physically, helping to open up the pelvis and relax the muscles but it also supports you psychologically for the labour and pending motherhood. Women that have acupuncture during pregnancy recover quicker, are less likely to suffer postnatal depression and have calmer babies that feed well as a result.

But what if you can’t get pregnant. Recent surveys have shown that 1 in 6 couples in Ireland now struggle to get pregnant. Over 40% of fertility issues are down to the man, something which is often overlooked until the woman has undergone rigorous investigation, despite the simplicity of the test. For females the top reasons for infertility are endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome and irregular ovulation, although often there seems to be no medical reason (unexplained infertility). There is no doubt though that our stressful lives, increased consumption of processed foods, use of medications, such as the pill, for prolonged periods and leaving it until our 30s and 40s to have children are all playing a significant role.

Fortunately, acupuncture has a dramatic effect on fertility for both men and women and this is becoming more widely recognised with many fertility clinics recommending acupuncture as an adjunct therapy. It not only increases natural pregnancies rates but also the success of IVF treatment. As a practitioner I see patients for fertility treatment on a daily basis. Both men and women attend me, though the numbers are still heavily weighted towards women, despite the previous statistic! Men are still very reticent to seek help for fertility issues. Those that do reap the benefits as I have had instances where acupuncture treatment in conjunction with Chinese herbs and some changes in diet have led to a 15 fold increase in sperm count, as well as a significant increase in motility (swimming speed) and normal morphology (physically normal). Women also respond equally well to treatment and I have now had many instances where a patient got pregnant naturally after being told IVF was her only option or where a lady has had multiple failed IVF cycles and then gets pregnant after a course of acupuncture.

Since commencing in practice the volume of patients that attend me for fertility problems or pregnancy-related issues has increased organically, until now these patients make up more than 50% of my patient base. This is a joy for me as I have always had a special interest in this area, continually undergoing postgraduate courses in fertility. I also am of the belief that it is no coincidence that these people find themselves at my door. Being a part of this most special and personal journey is the most rewarding aspect of my job. I am truly blessed.

Spring is fast approaching and with it the promise of more clement weather (we hope!) and longer daylight hours. As nature rouses from her winter slumber and looks ahead to the new growth of spring, we too emerge into spring “raring to go”, making plans and decisions, and determining our direction for the coming year. […]