By Kindreth Hamilton, L.Ac., Director of Integrity Women's Health.
I work with women throughout all stages of pregnancy, but I especially enjoy preparing for birth day and feel honored to be a part of someone’s prenatal care.
I remember my own pregnancies and how luxurious it felt to doze on a treatment table when I was sore and exhausted, and know that in that moment, all I needed to do was relax.
What are you doing to prepare your body for labor? Would you like to feel comfortable as your due date approaches and have an efficient labor? Read on to learn how acupuncture and self-care in the third trimester can relieve common discomfort such back pain or sciatica and can optimize your chances of having an efficient birth.
Treatments in the final weeks of your pregnancy are designed to ease discomfort, facilitate deep relaxation, bolster your energy, and to gently soften and dilate your cervix in preparation for birth.
Pain free pregnancy
Ideally, acupuncture should start early in your third trimester and continue until labor starts especially if you are suffering from back pain, sciatica or other persistent discomforts. Acupuncture reduces inflammation and relieves pain by causing your body to release natural opioids (pain reducers) that interrupt pain signals to your brain. Pain during pregnancy can cause you to feel more fatigued, anxious, possibly depressed and can make the thought of birth even more daunting. Don’t let pain rob you of savoring your pregnancy experience!
I encourage patients to use a yoga ball at home to relax their sacrum and open their pelvis. Begin by sitting on the yoga ball as though you were doing a wide squat. Feel your sit bones on the ball and your feet firmly connected to the floor. You’ll feel there is more room for your baby with your legs spread and your lovely belly can relax to fill the space. Now gently allow your pelvis to rock from side to side and feel the movement in your lower back, along your spine and through your rib cage. The yoga ball will make a nice perch for you instead of a chair and may be more beneficial to your back then your couch.
Breathe out stress
You’re in the homestretch of pregnancy now and anticipation of birth and changes to your life may create bouts of stress. Acupuncture treatments to calm your nervous system and protect you from the effects of sustained stress can be enhanced at home with a simple breath exercise. While resting comfortably with your eyes closed and your hands on your belly become aware of your breath. Focus on breathing deep into your belly and make sure that you are not breathing from your chest, as so many of us do. Begin by inhaling deeply to the count of four and exhaling to the count four. This type of breathing signals your nervous system to slow down and can be practiced anytime and anywhere.
Nine months can feel like a long wait to greet your baby and like many women you may be exhausted as your due date nears. You are carrying extra weight, your back, pelvis and joints may ache, you have wicked heartburn that gets the better of you at night and a good sleep has become interrupted with frequent trips to the bathroom.
Birth preparation treatments focuses on cultivating a reserve of energy so that during birth you have a reservoir of stamina to sustain you. This is accomplished in part with acupuncture, but also includes breath practices (as mentioned) and proper rest. Resting wisely means that you are listening to your body and not over-exerting yourself physically and mentally— it may mean changing your exercise or spending quiet time at home instead of being social. Stamina during birth includes physical endurance but also greatly depends on emotional peace. Guided meditations can be enormously helpful to gather your inner reserve — I recommend checking out guided meditations by Health Journeys (www.healthjourneys.com).
Final preparation for birth day
At 38 weeks until labor starts, the treatment protocol shifts to focus on optimizing your chances for a natural childbirth using points that encourage your cervix to soften and dilate. These sessions encourage your body to prepare for labor and are not as intense and fast acting as labor induction with pitocin. This is why treatments are carried out over several weeks. Acupuncture points just above your inner ankle and in your sacrum are used because they affect the uterus. The beauty of acupuncture is that it can be gently tailored to your specific needs prior to birth. For example, there are points to relax your pelvis, calm your anxiety, reduce nausea, assist in correcting your baby’s position and helping your baby to descend into the birth canal. Women who receive this treatment protocol report going into labor spontaneously—without medical intervention—and having a shorter labor compared with women who do not receive acupuncture.