ACUPUNCTURE: An Ancient Practice for Breastfeeding Health November 13, 2013 20:10
You may know someone who has treated their migraines or muscle pain with acupuncture, but did you also know that this ancient Traditional Chinese Medical practice is also effective in treating common breastfeeding complications and increasing milk supply?
WHAT IS ACUPUNCTURE, EXACTLY?
Acupuncture is a five thousand year old practice that, combined with herbal treatments, massage, nutrition, and other various practices, forms the wider umbrella of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM approaches the body as a vessel full of vital energy. This energy flows throughout the body on a system of meridians. This energy is called chi (qi). The premise is that when your chi is off balance or blocked, your body can experience all kinds of pain and illness. Through acupuncture, these maladies are alleviated or eliminated by manipulating (or stimulating) specific meridian points associated with the flow or balance of energy.
When you undergo acupuncture, an experienced practitioner will place very fine needles into meridian points directly connected to the energy blockage. You might feel a slight twinge of pain as the needle goes in, or you could feel nothing at all. Once the needles are placed and wiggled a bit, you’ll get to rest quietly for fifteen minutes to an hour. You may even fall asleep! (The nap alone sounds good, right?) The needles are then painlessly removed and you’re on your way to wellness! Many women experience increased milk production and a decrease of symptoms of mastitis after just one visit, but it may take more depending on your particular condition.
From a western medicine mindset, this can be a little bit hard to stomach. It may help to know that in 1997, the National Institute of Health (NIH) gave their nod of approval for the use of acupuncture for the treatment of various conditions, with promise of future widespread approval. According to NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), the number of adults using acupuncture in the U.S. has increased by over a million since then.
WHY DOES ACUPUNTURE HELP WITH BREASTFEEDING?
According to Monica Legatt M.Ac., Dipl., NCCA, of Downtown Seattle Acupuncture, typical problems with lactation are a result of either insufficient energy or stagnant energy.
When you don’t have enough energy, you will often experience low milk production. It is fairly common for a new mother to be exhausted post-partum. Combine that with blood loss during delivery, and the levels of energy and blood flow necessary to produce sufficient milk are just not there. Acupuncture treatment actually increases the hormones necessary to produce and move breast milk. In TCM, your practitioner will combine diet recommendations with herbal treatments and acupuncture to achieve a healthy milk supply for your nursing infant.
When your energy isn’t flowing properly around the breasts, you may experience engorgement, pain and pressure, distention, and even mastitis (which also involves infection). This energy blockage generally stems from emotional stress such as anxiety, depression, resentment, anger, frustration, or any of the other day-to-day stresses you may feel as a new mother. These stresses cause a blockage in the flow of energy within the liver channel, which is related to nipple function in women and thus breast milk production and nursing. Aside from avoiding all stress (yeah, right), acupuncture can open up the energy blockages causes the painful symptoms.
When you receive acupuncture to treat these symptoms, you can rest assured that there will be no needles inserted into your breast! The practitioner will be treating the liver channel, which has points near the rib cage and on the torso, legs, and feet.
The best way to treat mastitis is by combining western medicine (antibiotics) to get rid of the infection, and acupuncture along with other TCM therapies to relieve the blockage.
HOW DO I FIND A GOOD ACUPUNCTURIST?
The first thing to do is to ask your best resource… your friends! A first-hand recommendation for a good acupuncturist who has worked well with lactation issues beats any search engine you can put your curser on. Ask at your mom’s group. Ask your lactation consultant, doula, or midwife. Ask your doctor. Once you get a small list of recommended practitioners, do your homework.
Check the acupuncturist’s credentials. There are several certifying bodies that train TCM practitioners in proper technique, and you’ll want a string of letters behind their name to ensure that you’re getting the highest quality treatment.
MD or DO: Your practitioner is a certified medical doctor, but ask if he or she has their Medical Acupuncture Certification through the American Board of Medical Acupuncture.
MAc, or M.A.O.M.: Masters in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Your practitioner has completed a rigorous program through the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
NCAA, or NCAAOM: A certificate from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) is required to obtain a state license to practice acupuncture.
Finally, you may want to check with your insurance company to see if acupuncture is covered. If it is, ask your provider if any practitioners on your list are within your network and if their services are covered.
As you embark on this new path to nursing health, please remember that unless an acupuncturist is also a certified doctor, they are not in a position to diagnose medical conditions. It’s best to always get a diagnosis from your doctor or midwife and then ask him or her if acupuncture would be beneficial to a holistic treatment plan.