As months go by, seasons come and go, transitions happen, and with that – so does change. It’s not uncommon to feel a bit like we have been in the spin cycle of the wash. We are constantly unlearning and re-learning how to be in the world. Because we are human, we sometimes get lost in our own expectations of what should be happening and all the things that are wrong in our lives. These frustrations and judgments cloud our vision and it becomes difficult to see the value and the purpose of where we are now. Read
by Diana Harris
What an exciting time it is anticipating the birth of your baby, whether it is your first or a new addition to your growing family. We can say with confidence, there are few experiences in life that top the moment your pregnancy is confirmed.
At the YinOva Center we offer acupuncture, herbal remedies, massage and holistic support for you as you prepare for a healthy pregnancy. Happily we see many of you transition from this “premester” preparatory phase, to your first trimester. When that time comes, we often hear, “We’re pregnant, now what?” We can continue to work together as your body adjusts to the various changes of pregnancy. Guided by the principles of Chinese medicine and our philosophy of “traditional wisdom for modern families,” I have been inspired to start a blog series offering safe, simple self-help suggestions for the common side-effects of pregnancy. Topics will include everything from the first trimester through to preparing for labor and finally, the postpartum period.
“Why am I always so tired?”
Fatigue is a common complaint in the early stages of pregnancy, with a sudden loss of energy as your body gets used to the all the changes. Your body is adjusting to the extra workload of the developing placenta as well as hormonal changes. This fatigue often lasts throughout the first trimester, with a sense of renewed energy starting at about week 13. Toward the end of your pregnancy, in your last trimester, fatigue is often linked to the additional 20 – 30 lbs. gained, lack of sleep due to frequent bathroom visits or the station of the baby, making it hard to find a comfortable sleeping position.
Your Doctor or midwife may suggest an iron supplement early in your pregnancy to improve your hemoglobin levels, which will improve overall oxygenation to your cells and thereby improving your energy.
Based on the result of an involved questionnaire, we can find different patterns that emerge. Your acupuncturist will then select a course of treatment best suited for you particular presentation. You may recognize the names of some of the more common patterns if you have been receiving acupuncture for a while, if not, this may be an introduction. Either way, I’d love to explore the Chinese perspective with you. They include:
- Qi deficiency: fatigue that is worse after exertion and better with rest.
- Yang deficiency: includes some of the signs of Qi deficiency plus sensations of feeling cold.
- Yin deficiency: fatigue, restlessness and heat signs, like warm flushes or night sweats.
- Liver Qi stagnation: fatigue that is worse with inactivity and stress.
- Liver Blood deficiency: fatigue, weakness, dry skin, pale lips and poor memory.
Acupuncture is useful at any stage of your pregnancy. If there are obvious reasons for your fatigue, like nausea, anemia or musculoskeletal pain, those issues will be addressed first. We would advise you to listen to your body and slow down if needed. This is not the time to push the envelope on your energy reserves. Small, simple lifestyle or nutritional changes will correspond to increased energy.
Self help suggestions:
- For those of you taking an iron supplement, choose an easily absorbed liquid formula, like Floradix.
- Incorporate iron rich foods into your diet, like organic eggs, grass-fed red meats, spinach, blackstrap molasses and dried fruits.
For those presenting with patterns such as Qi deficiency or Yang deficiency:
- Think about how you can reduce your workload.
- Dress warmly.
- Start work later in the morning if possible.
- Go to bed earlier.
- Pay attention to your sleep hygiene: keep your room dark; remove electronics like TV’s and laptops from your bedroom; if outside noise is an issue, use a white noise device.
- Your diet should incorporate Qi and Yang tonifying foods and preparations: limit the consumption of cold and raw foods; lightly steam or roast veggies with rosemary, add a little garlic or ginger to stir-fry; add cinnamon, or cloves to fruit compotes or rice congee.
Yin deficient women need to support and conserve their Yin energy:
- Seek out activities that are calming as opposed to stimulating, i.e., gentle moving meditations, Tai Chi or prenatal yoga help to center and ground your energy reserves.
- Avoid foods that are too stimulating like caffeinated drinks, pick-me-up snacks with too much sugar.
- Incorporate Yin nourishing foods like banana, mango, dairy, legumes, fish and pork.
- Small frequent meals, rather than less frequent, large meals, keep blood sugar levels stable, minimizing those after meal or mid-day energy slumps.
- Try different kinds of milk to make fruit smoothies, such as almond, rice, hemp or coconut milk as these are less mucus producing, and nourish the Yin energy.
Liver Qi stagnation fatigue requires us to focus our attention on promoting the smooth flow of Qi. Possibly you are one of those ladies, who, prior to your pregnancy found regular, strenuous work-outs like running suited you best. Now that you are pregnant those work-outs may not be advisable. If you feel the need to release some of that pent up energy and doing nothing makes you feel more tired a brisk daily walk and/or lane swimming are good alternatives. They are both gentle enough and active enough to move the energetic Qi of the Liver, calm irritability, and energize you at the same time!
Liver Blood deficiency ladies need to build Blood (of course we are primarily speaking of the energetics of Blood, through the eyes of Chinese medicine, we are not suggesting there is anything wrong with your blood – using upper case ‘B’ for Chinese medicine and lower case ’b’ for what is commonly thought of as blood).
- Dietary suggestions include already mentioned iron rich foods.
- Other suggestions: beetroot, avocado, dark leafy green vegetables, kidney beans.
- Smaller, more frequent meals.
- Include plenty of plant based proteins, like quinoa or whole grain buckwheat.
- Wheat grass shots are a nice addition to your routine.
- Don’t forget your fluid intake. Always start with water, water, water.
- Another option, pure, clear and clean broths to sip on throughout the day.
Daily waking activities need to include some down time. Most likely you will find it is after lunch between 1 and 3 pm, you may feel, as my mother would say, “too pooped to pop.” Energetically, in terms of Chinese medicine, this is the time when the Liver energy is at its weakest (peak time is 1 – 3 am while you’re body is resting & rebuilding Liver Blood). A nap would be ideal, but often not possible for many working women. Please listen to your body’s needs. Put yourself first for now. Schedule a daily 20 minute catnap. Close the eyes, get into a no fly zone space to replenish your energy reserves.
Remember how incredible your body is. Enjoy, marvel and embrace the changes your body is going through and bringing forth!
Stay tuned for the next topic in our series: ‘Morning Sickness.’
“Do I really have to give up coffee now that I’m trying to get pregnant?” Patients ask me this question a lot and here’s how I usually answer it. If you’re trying to get your body healthy in order to conceive it makes sense to limit your coffee intake to one cup a day. However if getting pregnant is proving to be struggle or you are suffering from infertility it’s best to cut coffee out altogether. I understand the allure of coffee. I love a cup of coffee myself and I’m similar to my patients in that I’m an over-scheduled New Yorker and I appreciate the energy lift coffee can give me. However even as I guiltily sip my latte, I know that this caffeine boost is false energy and no replacement for proper rest and good nutrition.
We all know that caffeine can increase stress and anxiety levels but for women trying to conceive, coffee has other consequences as well. Caffeine can decrease the flow of blood to the uterus, which can interfere with implantation. Too much caffeine can increase the risk of blood clotting and miscarriage.
Knowing that caffeine can cause fertility problems some of my patients switch to decaffeinated coffee in order to enhance their fertility. However, all coffee, be it regular or decaf, is acidic and can make the body and cervical mucus too acidic and so hamper conception. Several studies have shown that coffee (even decaffeinated coffee) can diminish fertility. One Dutch study showed that 4 cups of decaf or regular coffee a day lowered a woman’s chance of having a baby by 25%. Some studies have linked coffee to miscarriage and some have linked it to low sperm count. So the message is clear. If you’re trying to conceive and nothing’s working, it may be time to ditch your daily cup of Joe.
Here’s the advice we give our YinOva patients who are trying to limit their coffee intake.
- If you are suffering physical symptoms due to coffee withdrawal, acupuncture can help. Caffeine constricts the blood vessels in the brain and decreases circulation. If you suddenly cut out coffee, the increase in circulation both to your brain and your digestive system can lead to headaches as well as constipation or loose stools. An acupuncture treatment can treat both these symptoms well and so help you navigate your first coffee-free week.
- Herbal tonics such a astragalus or ginseng can help give your body a boost as you adjust to living without caffeine.
- Try drinking black tea. Even though tea contains some caffeine it does not seem to have the same adverse effect on fertility as coffee. In fact some studies have shown that tea may even help fertility. Researchers at Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program of Northern California in Oakland found that women who drink tea, even caffeinated black tea, have increased fertility. Black tea contains some caffeine so it can give you a bit of a boost, however the caffeine content is much less than coffee making it a great alternative.
- Go green. Not only does green tea contain even less caffeine (about 1/3 of the amount) but it also boasts numerous health benefits.
- Herbal teas are also worth considering. Experiment with different teas at different times of the day. A soothing cup of chamomile at night or a bright tasting mint tea first thing in the morning.
- Take a coffee-free break! Coffee drinkers enjoy the rituals around their regular cups of coffee as much as the coffee itself. So try to find a replacement for making a cup of coffee in the morning. Buy a pretty tea pot and sip tea from a china cup. If popping out to your favorite coffee shop is a wonderful break in your day, know that you don’t have to give this up along with the coffee. Give yourself permission to take a coffee-free break and go out and buy some tea or even a bottle of water.
- Avoid sugar, including all “fake sugars”. This can be difficult, but I have noticed that it gets easier after the 3rd day. So hang in there!
- Eat mostly vegetables, organic when possible.
- Eat a variety of grains, not just wheat. Try whole grains, such as brown rice, oats, buckwheat, millet and rye. These foods are high in B vitamins, which the liver needs to support its metabolic processes. Whole grains also bind excess hormones and toxins to carry them through the bowel for excretion.
- Drink water. Try to drink half your body weight in ounces. So if you weigh 140 lbs drink 70 oz or about 9 x 8oz glasses a day.
- Cut out caffeine and alcohol. Always a good rule when trying to get pregnant.
- Meditate and breathe. These relaxation techniques help to reduce stress hormones. For more information about mediation see this YinOva blog article
I have had really great success treating pregnant women and helping them to go into labor “on-time”. These days not many doctors will allow their patients to carry past 41 weeks. Unfortunately, babies do not always know the time line which, leads to anxious moms worrying about pitocin, cervadil or a scheduled C-section. Stressed out moms make for tight muscles and a tense cervix which, is less than optimal if you are trying to go into labor.
I’ve been lucky enough to work with many pregnant women and have had a lot of success using a pre-labor protocol that was created by Debra Betts, a renowned midwife and acupuncturist from New Zealand. Most of the women who get this treatment go into labor “on time” usually by 40-41weeks, and have had relatively short (less than 12 hours which is short in my book) and often unmedicated labors. First time mothers may go past 40 weeks but in my practice I have had very few Mom’s who have been induced medically.
The treatment commences at about 36-37 weeks gestation and ends at the onset of labor. Treatment consists of a core group of acu-points that help facilitate muscle relaxation, a softening of the cervix and relaxation for the mind. During treatment I also addresses other issues that may be affecting the woman. This could be reflux, insomnia, back pain etc…
A recent study showed a 35% reduction in the number of inductions, (for first-time mothers this was a 43% reduction) and a 31% reduction in the epidural rate. When compared to a local midwifery practice (with no acupuncture) there was 32 % reduction in emergency Cesarean Sections and a 9% increase in normal vaginal births. Read the full study here.
Once considered an unusual treatment, acupuncture has become a valued and more mainstream method of enhancing an IVF cycle. As successive studies point to it’s efficacy, couples are more comfortable about adding a course of acupuncture to their IVF protocol. You can read more about how we, at the YinOva Center, treat women who are going through IVF by clicking here.
Many of you are familiar with this German study that looked at 160 women undergoing IVF and split them into two groups. One group combined acupuncture with IVF and one group did not. Interestingly the group that did the acupuncture had a 50% better outcome than the group that did IVF alone. Likewise research published in the British Medical Journal showed that women doing IVF who underwent acupuncture were 65% more likely to have a successful embryo transfer compared with those who underwent a “sham” version of the treatment, or no extra treatment at all. You can read about this study here.
Now some new research may be casting further light on why acupuncture can be so helpful. The study, which you can read here, looks at how acupuncture when given twice a week for about 5 weeks regulates the stress hormones cortisol and prolactin and so improves pregnancy rates.
An IVF cycle can be very stressful. My patients talk about the financial pressure of having so much riding on the outcome of the procedure and how this combined with constant monitoring and taking large doses of stimulating drugs makes them tense and tired. Some studies, like this one by UCSD, have shown that the more stressed a patient is, the poorer the result, because of the way stress interferes with reproductive hormones. The reason this latest acupuncture study is important is that it shows that regular acupuncture treatment can offset the negative effects of stress by regulating stress hormones and so help a patient have the best possible outcome from IVF.
We love helping you have babies here at the YinOva Center and have helped thousands of couples achieve IVF success. Feel free to call and speak to one of our acupuncturists if you want to know more.