All About Acupuncture
Farzaneh Ghaffari is an acupuncturist at Golden Health Acupuncture in Melbourne. With over 10 years’ experience, she is a specialist when it comes to fertility treatment, pregnancy, breech babies, inducing labour and postnatal care. Farzaneh’s patients speak highly of her compassion, care and amazing results, so I took the time to chat with her about how acupuncture can be a great complementary treatment to pregnancy, birth and postnatal care. Here’s everything you need to know about acupuncture and having a baby!
Helen: What is acupuncture and how does it work?
Farzaneh: Acupuncture is a complementary medical practice that entails stimulating certain points on the body, most often with a small needle penetrating the skin, to alleviate pain or to help treat various health conditions. In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is linked to the belief that disease is caused by disruptions to the flow of energy, or qi, in the body. One major hypothesis is that acupuncture works through neurohormonal pathways – basically, you put the needle into a specific part of the body and stimulate the nerve.
What is your area of expertise?
Farzaneh: I work in women’s health – I specialist in IVF, natural fertility, inducing labour, acupuncture for breech baby, prenatal acupuncture and postnatal acupuncture.
How can acupuncture help a woman looking to get pregnant/is pregnant/wanting to go in to labour?
Farzaneh: Acupuncture can increase fertility by reducing stress, increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs and balancing the endocrine system, according to several studies and medical research. Acupuncture helps to keep the normal flow of this energy unblocked, thereby increasing a couple’s chances of conceiving.
In pregnancy, acupuncture can ease a wide range of symptoms including heartburn, swelling in the legs, constipation, carpel tunnel syndrome, sciatica and more. For morning sickness, I target the wrist to relieve nausea and vomiting. Acupuncture or massage specific for depression, which is actually really common in pregnancy, can reduce symptoms. Acupuncture can also help you sleep better – one of the many complaints of pregnancy!
I can also treat a woman whose baby is breech (bottom first instead of head first), but with moxibustion (not acupuncture). This doesn’t involve needles, but the burning of the herb mugwort near certain acupuncture points. Regular sessions have been shown to help turn a baby down to head first, which is more preferable for birth.
Have there been studies done that prove the benefits of acupuncture?
Farzaneh: Hundreds of clinical studies on the benefits of acupuncture show that is successfully treats conditions ranging from musculoskeletal problems (back pain, neck pain etc) to nausea, migraine headaches, anxiety, depression, insomnia and infertility.
What should women look for in an acupuncturist for getting pregnant/pregnancy/birth? How does someone know they are getting a skilled, safe practitioner?
Farzaneh: Look for an acupuncturist who is motivated, educated, and their place of work well run. They should offer the most current and research-based approach in their care. It’s a good thing if they work collaboratively with other health practitioners (both in their place of work and externally) to ensure you receive the most comprehensive and safest care. You might find somewhere through word of mouth, or you might get a gut instinct when you walk through the door (as to the quality of care offered). Acupuncturists/Chinese Medicine Practitioners are also accredited and registered health practitioners (so you can check their registration is current and they are permitted to practice within the scope of their registration).
What advice do you give to women wanting to get pregnant?
Farzaneh: My advice would be there are many things you can do to optimise your chances of conceiving. These include detoxification, natural medicine (for fertility treatment and prevention of miscarriage), record your menstrual cycles/monitor ovulation, manage your stress, have sex every second day during your fertile window, aim to achieve a healthy body weight, take prenatal vitamins, eat healthily, cut back on strenuous workouts, and participate in yoga and meditation. You can do all of these things, or just change one thing; these are just some of the options which can help you. It might be beneficial to have a thorough health screen with your doctor too, to check for any deficiencies, hormonal health, or infections.
What advice do you give to pregnant women?
Farzaneh: Women have been using acupuncture and traditional Chinese herbal remedies as part of their pregnancy for centuries! Acupuncture is very safe during pregnancy, nothing is take (ingested) as part of the treatment. This is beneficial for women experiencing symptoms of pregnancy such as nausea. Both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can be used with great success to support a healthy pregnancy and prepare your body for labour, birth and mothering.
What advice do you give to women wanting to bring on labour?
Farzaneh: Many women planning a natural birth are looking for ways to prepare. Acupuncture is a gentle, safe treatment that can help you have a positive, calm birth experience. Pre-birth acupuncture is a course of balancing treatments designed to prepare your body for birth. Treatments are usually given once a week from 35 weeks, helping you to prepare physically and emotionally for the birth of your baby. Pre-birth acupuncture works by ripening the cervix and toning the muscles of the uterus; keeping you calm and reducing anxiety; encouraging the baby to move into the best position for labour and birth; building your energy for labour and recovery; and may help with common complaints in late pregnancy such as back pain, heartburn or constipation. In my experience, women who have had regular pre-birth acupuncture are also less likely to need medical induction is the baby is overdue.
Pre-birth acupuncture is also beneficial for women who have had a previous caesarean section who want to have a subsequent natural birth. It is generally worth starting the treatments at 34 weeks to allow more time to support and prepare your body for a natural birth.
What about women who have a fear of needles?
Farzaneh: No one is a fan of needles! But many women have come in afraid of needles, but have experienced the amazing transformative power of the medicine. Even if you are nervous or afraid, still give it a try to see the positive changes it can make. It is definitely possible to hate needles but love acupuncture!
(Acupuncture needles are also much, much smaller than a standard medical needle, so you definitely don’t feel them like a normal needle you are used to – see the image below to compare acupuncture needles with other needles)
Anything else you’d like mums-to-be to know?
Farzaneh: Being a mum is hard, whether it’s your first or your fifth time. We know the lack of sleep, changes in identity and lack of time for self-care can feel overwhelming. But at our wellness centre, we want you to enjoy your journey through the fourth trimester and beyond. We cover everything from physical and emotional changes to baby specific advice, we can offer you practice tips and services whenever you need them.
Want more?! Click here to read an overview of the evidence that shows acupuncture/moxibustion increases the chances of turning a breech baby to head first. Click here for evidence the acupuncture improves the cervix's readiness for birth, here to read the evidence around the safety of acupuncture in pregnancy, and this systematic review shows acupuncture's benefits for pelvic pain in pregnancy. Finally, click here for a fantastic, unmissable acupressure resource that you or your support person can use for natural pain relief and reducing complications in labour!
I hope this has been a helpful read. Please share the love by sending this post to a supermum or supermum-to-be, who might benefit from this article. And I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!