Thursday, 17 March 2011

Spike Healing

Acupuncture is a branch of Chinese Medicine which is used quite widely these days in treating many conditions, but also fertility problems, pregnancy and childbirth.

During a treatment, fine needles are inserted into the patient's skin at certain points on their body, called acupuncture points. In Chinese Medicine, energy (or Qi, pronounced "chee") flows around the body through pathways called meridians. Blockages in these meridians are believed to be the source of pain or physiological problems. Inserting and stimulating needles at the acupuncture points is supposed to help relive these blockages and get the Qi flowing again.

Of course, acupuncture is an ancient practice, developed well before conventional medicine was researched. According to the wikipedia page I linked above there is currently insufficient evidence to suggest that acupuncture is more successful at treating conditions than other treatments. There's a pretty strong case for the argument that what patients are experiencing is a placebo effect - that is, they believe they are getting pain relief, therefore they experience less pain.

Trying it out
I was always curious about acupuncture, coming from the "I'll try anything once" school of medical treatment, but the thought of having needles stuck in me was really off-putting so I never really considered actually doing it.

In one of our ante natal classes at the hospital recently, the midwife taking the class was discussing the procedure used for inducing labour at the hospital. It sounded horrific - you are drip-fed chemicals gradually in increasing doses until you are well into the second phase of labour, which often brings on contractions much more painful than a natural labour. Then, if the baby is distressed at all, they just turn off the chemicals and have to start from the beginning again!

She did say though that she had met many people who had used acupuncture to induce labour instead and it had quite a good success rate, sometimes after a few treatments but usually getting things going before a medical induction was required.

The idea of having extra options before having to go though what sounded like a traumatic procedure really appealed to me, so the next day I made an appointment at a local acupuncturist recommended by the midwife. The first appointment was for general pregnancy maintenance, which is for general relief of back, hip and joint pain. I think for that appointment there were about 5 or 6 needles inserted into my hip, foot and leg, then I had to lie there and relax for about 15 minutes on each side. All I felt was a tiny twinge when a couple of the needles were tapped in.

It was great! I think the forced lying still for half an hour did wonders to relax me, but it fired up the Sproutling who kicked and wriggled all afternoon. That night I had a great night's sleep and the following morning my hips and back felt a little better too - certainly a better outcome than the bruises the physiotherapist had given me previously!

Once I found out that Sproutling was breech, I went back to my acupuncturist for two breech sessions. These were slightly different in that they also used Moxabustion.  I was sitting propped up on my back so I was so comfortable I almost dropped off to sleep in these sessions, even though Sprout was kicking like a champion.

Unfortunately Sproutling was determined to stay in a comfy head-up spot and didn't turn until forced to (see earlier post), but I'm still a convert to acupuncture if only for the relaxation and temporary pain relief part.

Labour preparation
This afternoon I'm going back for another labour preparation treatment. This type of treatment is meant to help ripen and prepare my cervix and uterus (sorry, TMI) for labour. Apparently people also report having easier and less painful labour after these kind of treatments, so I'm all for that. I'm also looking forward to a bit of pain relief since my hips and lower back have been aching badly the last few days.

If Sproutling hasn't decided to join us on the outside by next week, I'll book in for an induction session. From what I can gather, the treatment involves the needles being hooked up to some kind of mild electrical current to increase their stimulation.  Sounds... interesting and slightly Frankenstinian but I'm willing to give it a go.

The funny thing with acupuncture is that as a trained scientist I am willing to accept that the effects are probably all in my head, but right now I am happy to keep my options open and Believe it's working.

About Fertility
I just thought I'd add a quick note for anyone interested in using acupuncture to boost fertility. Acupuncture is usually used in conjunction with IVF treatment and has quite good success rates based on studies that have been done.  Of course, it's difficult to assess the results since most research is either carried out by the conventional medical profession who are quite sceptical, or pro-natural remedy groups who are all for it.

Treatments are carried out at certain times during the IVF cycle on both the man and woman and are thought to help both with the quality of sperm and the condition of the uterus.

More information:

If you're thinking of giving acupuncture a go, make sure the practitioner you choose is accredited with your local professional body, such as the AACMA in Australia.

It's generally not recommended to have acupuncture anywhere that doesn't use sterilised disposable needles. Reused needles can carry risk of infection of blood-borne and other diseases, since the needles are actually penetrating your skin. In almost all cases though, acupuncture is a very safe and gentle treatment that can be used on anyone.

So, dear readers, have you had experience with acupuncture during pregnancy or to help induce labour?  I'd be interested to hear your story!

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