Here at Stepping Stone, we treat a lot of women during pregnancy to help alleviate uncomfortable symptoms and make the 9 months as pleasant, and healthy, and wonderful as possible. Probably the most common reason that pregnant women seek out acupuncture treatment is for nausea and vomiting – the famous symptoms of “morning sickness.”
According to the American Pregnancy Association, as many as 50% of women experience symptoms of morning sickness, usually between weeks 6 and 12. However, for some women these symptoms can begin earlier or stay much longer. For most women, morning sickness is unpleasant but poses no real danger to the mom or the baby. However, if the nausea and vomiting is bad enough to severely limit eating and drinking, it can cause problems for both mom and baby relating to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Regardless, morning sickness is not a fun experience and can drastically interfere with a pregnant woman’s daily life.
The good news is, acupuncture may be a useful treatment for your symptoms of morning sickness, especially when combined with a number of easy home remedies you can try on your own.
From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, morning sickness is closely tied to some of the deeper energetic systems in the body, which are rapidly changing to accommodate and nourish the fetus. The “Penetrating Vessel”, or Chong Mai, is an “extraordinary vessel”, a channel of blood and energy that runs much deeper in the body. This energetic channel runs through the womb and the stomach, and overlaps with the stomach’s energetic channel. As the mother’s blood, energy, and essence is poured into the newly growing fetus, there is less to anchor the stomach energy, which can lead to an easy stomach, feelings of nausea, and vomiting. Acupuncture treatments are therefore focused on alleviating the symptoms of nausea and vomiting, and also strengthening this deep energetic system so that it has the strength to overcome the morning sickness symptoms on its own.
Research into the effects of acupuncture on morning sickness symptoms show mixed results. Recent trials and reviews have made such varying conclusions as that acupuncture may not be an effective treatment, there is low-quality evidence that suggests acupuncture may be effective, and there is promising evidence as to acupuncture’s effect on nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy. However, much of the research into acupuncture for morning sickness is limited by weak trial designs, unrealistic treatment approaches (such as using only one acupuncture point during treatment), and inadequate control groups. There has been much promising research into acupuncture’s effects on other causes of nausea and vomiting, however, and from an acupuncture perspective, this sheds promising light on acupuncture’s ability to help with morning sickness.
As a practitioner, perhaps the most important thing is the clinical improvements that we see in our patients.
There are also a number of home remedies with which one can supplement acupuncture treatments.
The first is acupressure. There is an acupuncture point on the wrist – Pericardium 6 (PC6), Neiguan – that is great for relieving symptoms of nausea and vomiting. PC6 also happens to be one of the points that we use to open and nourish the Chong Mai, that energetic system that is related to morning sickness. To find PC6 on your wrist, make a claw with your hand. There will be two tendons that stick up on your wrist. The point is located between those two tendons, three finger-widths up the forearm from the wrist crease. Applying gentle pressure to the area, as well as massaging the point during a bout of nausea or vomiting can help to alleviate symptoms. If you are experiencing morning sickness, the point will likely be sensitive to pressure.
Another helpful therapy is Chinese Herbal Medicine. The most effective approach to treatment with herbal therapy is to see a licensed practitioner of Chinese Herbal Medicine, who can make you a personalized herbal formula to take as a tea that will help with the symptoms of morning sickness.
If you don’t have a Chinese Herbal Medicine tea to drink, and you are feeling nauseous, you can use the wisdom of Chinese Herbal Medicine and use some herbs that you commonly find right in your kitchen! Ginger is probably the best and the most well known for its anti-nausea properties. Sip on all-natural ginger ale (no high fructose corn syrup), or make a Ginger Herbal tea. You can also grate fresh ginger into a pot of water, boil for 10 minutes, and you will have the freshest ginger tea imaginable! Mint tea can similarly quell nausea, although its effects on the stomach are usually not as strong or as quick as ginger’s.
You can also appeal to your sense of smell to help alleviate the symptoms of nausea and vomiting. A folk medicine remedy from India is to smell citrus fruits. I have had many patients see relief by carrying some limes or lemons with them. When you start to feel nauseous, dig your nail into the rind of the fruit and hold it up to your nose, and smell! Your olfactory sense is incredibly strong – especially when pregnant – and the smell of citrus helps to soothe the stomach.
It is also important to keep sustenance in your stomach – usually morning sickness symptoms are worse on an empty stomach. Eat small snacks and meals throughout the day. You can keep crackers next to your bed, and SLOWLY eat a few when you first wake up in the morning. Then continue to lie in bed for 20 minutes before rising. You want to make sure that you stay hydrated throughout the day, but avoid drinking large amounts of liquid at once, as that can trigger the nausea and can also trick your stomach into thinking you are full, when really you might be hungry. The best idea is to sip on liquids throughout the day. If drinking water, try to drink room temperature water (the stomach, in Chinese medicine, does not like cold temperatures.) Adding a little juice from a lemon into the water may help your body absorb the water and may quell some of the nausea, too.
You can also try hypnosis or visualization techniques. There are numerous hypnosis tapes available for purchase, or you can see a therapist who practices hypnosis. As far as visualization techniques go, the most important thing to remember is that your visualizations should be focused on the stomach energy softening, calming, and staying in the stomach – not rising upwards, as it does with nausea. Some people find it helpful to picture a soothing color slowly seeping into their stomach – with each breath, the color softens the nausea, softens the tension, and allows the churning to melt away.
As with nearly anything, relaxation is important. Anything that you can do to relax your body and mind will help with the symptoms of morning sickness.
And in the end, remember that this will all be worth it when the baby comes.