Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an ancient system of medicine which is at least 5000 years old. TCM aims to prevent or heal disease by maintaining or restoring the yin/yang balance.
In essence, traditional Chinese healers seek to restore a dynamic balance between two complementary forces, yin (passive) and yang (active), which pervade the human body as they do in the universe. A person is healthy when harmony exists between the two forces: illness is a breakdown in the equilibrium of yin and yang (1).
TCM, being an ancient system of health care, has undergone continual development over the centuries as the causes of illness that affect mankind have evolved. In China, it is not an alternative form of therapy but is used in the state hospitals alongside modern medicine – Eastern and Western medicine working alongside each other, which is amazing to see.
TCM consists of:
- Herbal therapy
- Acupuncture / Acupressure
- Dietary therapy
- Lifestyle management
How is TCM used during pregnancy and the post-natal period?
For over 3000 years, TCM has promoted specialised treatment for women in pregnancy care and post-natal recovery.
The three stages of life – pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum recovery – are viewed as a window of opportunity to enhance a woman’s wellbeing and overall health. Conversely, if adequate care is not taken during these times, resulting problems may continue long after birth (6).
TCM places extreme value on promoting preventative care to strengthen the mother and baby, dealing with problems as they occur during pregnancy. Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine offer safe, effective and drug-free treatment options during and after pregnancy to support both foetal and maternal health.
TCM also focuses heavily on post-natal recovery as this is a major time that can improve and enhance the mother’s health and well-being. (6).
Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can be used in the following ways to assist during pregnancy and the post-natal period:
Acupuncture involves the use of fine needles which are inserted into a point located on a meridian (a set of pathways) along which vital energy is said to flow. By stimulating an acupuncture point, a chemical reaction occurs in the brain releasing endorphins and serotonin.
Acupuncture can be used to assist with nausea, dry retching, musculoskeletal issues, hypertension, pelvic pain, reflux and much more during pregnancy.
Recent studies have also proven that using acupuncture from 36 weeks for birth preparation focuses on ripening the cervix and can decrease labour time, intervention and c-section rates. Acupressure can also be used for natural pain relief during labour (2,3,4).
Moxa is used to assist with turning breech babies (5), mother warming (nourishing the mum post birth), abdominal pain postpartum and assisting with period pain.
Cupping uses glass cups that are placed on the body. Traditionally, cupping aids with musculoskeletal issues, pain and cupping cold out of the belly (for fertility). Cups can be placed and held in place or we can use sliding cupping – where the cup is slid over the skin – creating redness, moving energy and increasing blood flow. Cupping is safe to use in pregnancy. I use cupping to assist with lower back pain, hip pain, pelvic instability and tightness through the neck and shoulders.
Chinese Herbal Medicine can be used alone or in combination with acupuncture. The theory of herbal medicine is that all herbs, leaves, roots and flowers have energy and different properties, and that they enter specific meridians. Herbal medicine works internally to help achieve balance and harmony within the body.
Using herbal medicine is safe in pregnancy if it is prescribed through a trained Chinese Medicine Practitioner. During the first trimester, I use formulas that support the developing pregnancy, especially if the mother has a history of miscarriage. These herbs are taken until the 14th week and may be used throughout the pregnancy if required. Towards the end of the pregnancy, I prescribe herbs to increase blood and energy production in preparation for birth. After birth, herbs are used to focus on recovery, support breastfeeding and breast milk production, mind calming and support energy.
Diet/exercise therapy is incorporated into TCM treatments. Exercise therapy incorporates Tai chi, Qi gong and basic movement – the premise that we need to constantly move our body to move our energy flow. Yoga, stretching and breathing exercises are incorporated into the treatment. Exercise is extremely important during pregnancy and in postpartum recovery.
Lifestyle advice is given using TCM principles, e.g. ideal times to eat, drink, exercise and go to sleep to assist in creating balance and harmony within the body. TCM also follows the seasons so advice usually includes eating seasonally and changing food according to the seasons to keep the body healthy and prevent illness. This can change throughout the pregnancy and during the postnatal period.
TCM is a holistic medicine that focuses on preventing disease. It can be used as a preventative form of treatment to enhance your health as well as if you are unwell. It offers a safe, effective and drug-free treatment options during pregnancy and postpartum recovery.
As a Chinese Medicine Practitioner, I do not just focus on physical issues but also on mental and emotional wellness. I incorporate the mind, body and soul into each treatment and each treatment session is guided by what you need.
Dr Julia Bartrop is a Qualified Chinese Medicine Practitioner with a Bachelor of Applied Health Science Chinese Medicine / Human Biology and Bachelor of Science – Medical Science based in Melbourne, Victoria. If you would like to know more and get in touch, you can call (07) 3999 8535, email her or visit her website. Tele-health consults are also available.
Julia partners with Anita of Fit For 2 in South Morang, Victoria. To find out more about Anita and get in touch, click here.
1. RMIT University Lecture Notes, Clinical Chinese Medicine Gynaecology and Obstetrics, J Cui, C Xue, R Chen, X. J. Liu, Z Zheng, 2012, Australia.
2. Bettes D Lennox S (2006) Acupuncture for Pre-Birth Treatment: An observational Study of its use in Midwifery practice. Medical Acupuncture. Vo 17 No 3
3. Hantoushzadeh S. Alhusseni N. Lebaachi A. (2007) The effects of Acupuncture during labour in nulliparous Women: a randomized trial. Australian and New Zealand journal of obstetrics and gynaecology. 47:26-30
4. Kubista E, Kucera H. On the use of acupuncture in the preparation for delivery, Geburstshiife Perinatoi: 178(3):224-9
5. Cardinia F, Weixin H. (1998). “Moxibustion for correction of breech presentation” Journal of American Medical Association. 280:1580-1584.
6. The Essential Guide to Acupuncture and Pregnancy and Childbirth, Bettes, D 2006.