Obstetrics and Gynecology in Traditional Chinese Medicine

By Shihan Mary Bolz
Licensed Acupuncturist
Master of Science Oriental Medicine
Doctoral Fellow, FBU
Master Martial Arts Instructor

Women have been having babies since humans have existed (indeed, that is what keeps the human race going! So when problems do arise as far as conception, pregnancy, labor, delivery and postpartum, naturally. Traditional Oriental Medicine (TOM) has addressed these for centuries. Since TCM probably started as long ago as 5,000 years in ancient China and began being recorded in the written language as an organized, sophisticated medical system as far back as 2,500 years ago; one can understand how it is that this medical field is adept in these areas. People in the United States have not been aware of that until very recently and still, today, probably most people do not know or would not think of acupuncture and TOM for preparing for labor or for labor induction itself. But this is a very feasible route to try before succumbing to harsh methods, unnatural hormones, or invasive methods of conventional allopathic medicine. Of course, we do appreciate allopathic medicine for many of its wonderful contributions and life-saving techniques. At the same time, some are very harsh and even unnecessary. A woman, to have complete health care during this time, would do well to have her midwife, her TOM practitioner and her M.D. that are qualified in this area. The natural methods should always be tried first. This is how medicine was in this country, trying the natural methods first; before resorting to induced labor by chemical means, and Cesarean sections, etc. Of course, the West did not have the wonderful advantage that TOM offers. TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) or TOM (Traditional Oriental Medicine) is a highly developed system of medicine that was pretty much unknown to the United States until President Nixon went to China. At that time, many people were fascinated by acupuncture; but not really interested in it as a real medical science; mostly because Western science, especially in the United States, believes no other system is as sophisticated as their own. This micro-view has and continues to hurt the health of our citizens in a large way; because another very useful and very natural method of healthcare without harsh side-effects is being denied them by their very own limited point of view. Traditional Chinese Medicine can address the health issues of women at every stage of their life, from childhood, through puberty, through young adulthood, through pregnancy and postpartum, through middle age, through menopause and beyond. This article is focusing on two main topics; breach babies and delayed labor. There are a variety of positions, or presentations, in which babies are born. Babies are normally born headfirst with the chin bent down on the chest. The head, being more yang and compacted, normally takes a downward position and is the first part of the body to emerge from the birth canal. If a mother is eating well, keeping active, and in generally good condition, her baby will naturally assume the most yang position for birth. This position takes the least room and is the easiest for delivery. When a baby is more yin in condition, he or she may not tuck the chin down on the chest but may be born looking straight ahead, in which case, the neck is said to be extended. In some cases, the head is even more upward, as if the baby were looking up at the sky.

This position is known as a face presentation, while a brow presentation refers to a partially uplifted chin. More yin presentations generally occur when a woman takes in sugar, soft drinks, milk, butter, too many salads, fruit and fruit juices, and other more expansive items during pregnancy. These presentations can interfere with labor but if a woman is in good condition, she will usually be able to deliver normally. If a woman’s diet during pregnancy is even more extreme, the normal balance between the baby’s head and body can be disturbed, and the head may be too yin to assume a downward position. A transverse presentation, in which the baby lies crosswise in the mother’s abdomen with neither head nor buttocks down, may result. In some cases, transverse presentations result from obstructions in the birth canal, including fibroid tumors or placentas that are situated over the cervix. Foods such as milk and other diary products often cause the fetus to develop an enlarged bone structure, while the overconsumption of fluid can cause the baby to become expanded and swollen. When the intake of these foods is excessive, the baby can become too large for the mother’s pelvis and the head may be prevented from moving into a downward position. In some cases, babies in a transverse lie in the latter part of pregnancy change positions when labor starts, and are born either head- or feet-first. If there is no obstruction of the birth canal, most obstetricians will let labor begin in hopes that the baby will change positions during labor. However, it is impossible for a baby to be delivered vaginally while in the transverse position. Breech presentations are more likely to occur when the baby is too large for the mother’s pelvis or if the birth canal is blocked by the placenta, a cyst, or a tumor. Breech births are also more frequent among premature babies, especially when the mother consumes plenty of more yin foods and beverages during pregnancy. Uterine anomalies such as an intrauterine septum or a biconuate uterus are also apt to be associated with breech presentation. Other causes for a breech presentation could be loose abdominal muscles due to multiparity (having had more than one child before), multiple pregnancy, with one or more of the babies in the breech, prematurity, fetal and maternal physical structural anomalies, hydramnios (excess amniotic waters which keep the fetus floating), extended legs, the presence of fibroid tumors, placenta previa, or too short of a cord, due to wrapping around the body during life in the womb. Placenta previa is when the placenta is implanted in the lower part of the uterus. The placenta is normally implanted at the upper end of the uterus in the general area of the abdominal energy center, or hara chakra.

In the West, many times a skilled midwife or doctor is able to turn a baby in the breech position during the last weeks of pregnancy through external manipulation. The procedure is known as external version and can often cause the baby to be born headfirst. Traditional Chinese Medicine has used moxibustion alone or in combination with acupuncture for turning the breech presentation into a head down presentation, also known as cephalic or vertex presentation. TCM can successfully get the baby to turn about 70-80 percent of the time. The method is completely natural, utilizing the pathways of the meridians to affect the baby. There is no manual manipulation, and the most important acupoints and moxibustion points are in the womanʼs feet and hands. One course of acupuncture should be allowed to expect results; one course is 6 treatments, done daily, for one hour. It is more rare for only one treatment to effect results, but some occur after only 2 or 3 treatments. However, if it does not happen that soon, the woman should not give up and should allow the six daily treatments.

Remember that acupuncture and moxibustion are more natural methods than manual manipulation. Nature takes some time to be influenced. It is well-known in the practice of TCM throughout the ages and now, that this medicine is quite effective for getting breech babies to turn before delivery. A good time for turning the breech into the vertex is between the 32nd and 36th week. Often women come to us TCM practitioners for labor induction because their primary birth attendant has sent her, or because she wants to do it naturally. Reasons for labor induction can be: spontaneous rupture of membranes (SROM) without contractions, fetus passed the due date, hypertensive mother, large baby, small mother, diabetic women or gestational diabetes, prodromal labor, low amniotic fluid index (AFI) levels, a less than optimal biophysical profile on the fetus, or strict protocols in the OB practice with little room for waiting until nature takes its course and begins labor spontaneously. Acupuncture is the main modality for labor induction and electro-acupuncture often reaps good results. There are also Traditional Chinese medicinal herbal formulas that are used, based on the TCM diagnosis of the mother and using activating herbs. TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) or TOM (Traditional Oriental Medicine can treat many conditions that may occur with pregnancy, as well. For example, TCM can be quite valuable in helping to prevent miscarriages.

The traditional Chinese herbal medicine is the main modality for treating threatened miscarriages, as well as in prevention of habitual miscarriages. Acupuncture, next to diet, is the best and most immediate treatment for morning sickness. The correct herbal formulas are also helpful. TCM can treat hypertension during pregnancy, gestational diabetes, and other conditions. Quite well! So if you know someone or you are thinking of getting pregnant, or are, and having any of these conditions, remember TCM! Go the natural way and create the best start for your baby!

Proper cooking is necessary for a healthy pregnancy and for a healthy life. Cooking is an essential step into the transformation of our environment into ourselves–into our blood, cells, tissues, and organs and even into our thinking and spirituality. Women, through their ability to have children, are also able to transform these environmental factors directly into new human life.

A great responsibility and a great honor. Let’s do it wisely.

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