ACUPUNCTURE FOR POSTPARTUM RECOVERY

The postpartum period traditionally refers to the six weeks directly following childbirth but extends for many months and even years. From a traditional Chinese medicine viewpoint, the first three days post-birth is seen as a time of elimination. During this time, treatment is only given for problems arising from stagnation (lack of movement). This is followed by 30 days, and sometimes up to 100 days, of tonification, which is necessary to rebuild the blood and qi (energy) lost through pregnancy and childbirth. This concept of tonification applies to all women, not just those that feel exhausted following a difficult pregnancy or labor.

BREASTFEEDING PROBLEMS

While acupuncture treatment can be effective for problems such as diminished milk flow or mastitis, it is essential to know that prompt expert advice on feeding positions and the correct drainage of the milk passages is also a vital part of treatment. This information will be available from your lactation consultant, midwife, doctor, or a local breastfeeding support group.

  • Breastfeeding Problems
    • Insufficient lactation
      • Acupuncture, acupressure, and a warming technique called moxibustion can be useful methods for promoting the “let-down” reflex. Often the use of specific acupuncture points will induce an immediate tingling sensation with a let-down of milk. It is also essential for us to focus on the quality of food you are eating, your fluid intake, and the amount of rest you are receiving.
    • Mastitis
      • This is a breast infection that usually presents as an area of the breast that is sore, red, hot, and possibly hard to the touch. You may also have an elevated temperature or alternating fever and chills. This infection may have begun with a blocked milk duct that was not promptly cleared, or it may result from bacteria entering through the nipple.
      • From a traditional Chinese medicine perspective, this involves heat and toxic heat affecting specific acupuncture channels. These channels influence the breasts, control the nipples and affect the central and lateral aspects of the breast tissue. Therefore, distal acupuncture points can be chosen according to the channel that flows through the affected area of the breast.
      • Acupuncture treatment is usually given once a day, over a three to four-day period, to ensure that the mastitis successfully resolves. If signs of improvement are not seen relatively quickly, we recommend you contact your midwife or doctor for further assessment.
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Afterpains
    • These short, sharp cramp-like pains occur as the uterus descends back into the pelvis following childbirth. This is a normal occurrence and begins shortly after the placenta has been delivered, often with the first breastfeeding. The pains may continue to occur over several days and resolve as the uterus returns to its normal position. Acupuncture and acupressure can often relieve discomfort when pressure and heat are applied to the local area.
  • Night sweats
    • It is not uncommon for women in the week immediately following childbirth to find that they are waking at night drenched in sweat. From a western medical perspective, this is thought to be due to the body eliminating accumulated fluids post-pregnancy and childbirth.
    • From a traditional Chinese medicine viewpoint, night sweats usually indicate yin deficiency (an imbalance of temperature and moisture). They can often be treated with acupuncture and resolved after just one or two sessions.
  • Persistent uterine bleeding
    • Persistent uterine bleeding refers to lochia that continues to contain apparent blood and clots after day 10. Often women will experience a slightly heavier period of bleeding around day ten, but this will then be followed by the lochia reducing and changing into the expected postnatal discharge (clear or brownish in appearance). Acupuncture and moxibustion effectively stimulate the passing of any suspected retained product and slow the bleeding. We recommend you contact your midwife or doctor if the situation persists.
  • Perineal discomfort
    • Women often describe this as an uncomfortable, swollen feeling that makes it challenging to sit down in the first days following childbirth. There are some wonderful acupuncture points that can be incorporated into a treatment to help relieve an edematous perineum. Herbal sitz baths may also be included.
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Body pain
  • Postpartum Depression
    • Minor postnatal depression is seen in traditional Chinese medicine as being related to disruption of the seven emotions, disturbance of the mind, or fatigue following birth. Following childbirth, a woman has multiple emotional and physical adjustments to make as she recovers. Acupuncture and herbal medicine have much to offer in mood support. We recommend contacting your midwife or doctor if your symptoms persist.
  • Postpartum Dietary Treatment
    • Dietary recommendations are a significant part of promoting postnatal recovery. We recommend that new mothers emphasize foods that build qi and blood depleted after pregnancy and childbirth.
    • Foods to tonify qi:
      • Foods to tonify qi include oats, rice, potato, sweet potato, mushroom (button and shitake), yam, basil, cinnamon, clove, dill, fennel, fenugreek, ginger, nutmeg, rosemary, thyme, and jasmine tea.
    • Foods to build blood:
      • Foods to build blood include corn, sweet rice, beetroot, dark leafy greens, apricot, avocado, date, kidney bean, sesame seeds, egg, soy milk, and iron-rich foods such as red meat and spinach.
    • Cooked foods are seen in traditional Chinese medicine as more nourishing and kinder to the digestive system. Warm soups are considered particularly nutritious for women in the initial postnatal weeks.

MOTHERWARMING

“Mother warming” is a unique treatment given around the first week or two post-birth. It can be utilized to energize women and aid in their recovery.

This is a moxa technique used to tonify post-birth. Most commonly, a moxa stick will be used to warm the woman’s abdomen for 5-10 minutes or until the woman feels pleasantly warm. The moxa stick may also be used to warm the low back for 5-10 minutes. Many women have found it helpful to build breast milk supply and aid in healing cesarean section scars.

Ideally, acupuncture treatment is also given once a week beginning two weeks postpartum for a total of three weeks to promote stamina and efficient recovery. Acupuncture can also be helpful at this time to balance emotions, aid perineal healing, and help with any breastfeeding problems.


Handouts:

Diet & Postpartum Recovery Handout

Resources:

The Arvigo Institute

Holistic Pelvic Care

Wild Feminine, Wild Creative, Mothering From Your Center – Tami Lynn Kent’s books

The First 40 Days – Heng Ou’s book

The Fourth Trimester – Kimberly Ann Johnson

The Essential Guide to Acupuncture in Pregnancy and Childbirth: Debra Betts

Lactation resources:

St. Charles Family Birth Center

Nourish Lactation

Lactation Support

Research:

Acupuncture for Postpartum Urinary Incontinence

TESTIMONIALS

“Emden has been an incredible support throughout my pregnancy and postpartum journey! She is attentive to my requests/concerns and provides follow up after appointments. She has provided me with resources and exercises to continue therapies outside our appointment windows as well. I can’t recommend her enough!!”
Emma L.

“My experience at Green Willow Acupuncture with Emden has been amazing. I always feel so relaxed during our sessions and feel like I have made great improvements on many discomfort/problem areas. Emden has put a very thoughtful individualized touch to my experience with her and I would highly recommend her services.”
Izanne G.

“Emden at Green Willow Acupuncture is truly wonderful! She has been one of the most caring, attentive, and responsive health care providers that I have ever had. I have been continuously impressed by her capacity for empathy and ability to tailor her practice to meet my needs. If you’re searching for an
acupuncturist, I am positive that you will have a great experience at Green Willow.”
Rosemary T.