As long as women have given birth, they have struggled with the effects of dropping hormone levels following childbirth. Our approach in treating postpartum recovery is to use herbs, acupuncture, moxibustion, and lifestyle suggestions with warmth and compassion, knowing that this is a challenging transition in a new mother’s life. It has been understood in Asian that a woman sacrifices a great deal of “Qi” (energy) and “Blood” (blood and hormones) during the gestational process and is in a deficient state following childbirth. We understand that the new couple, following the intense joy of birth, may be facing new roles and stresses in the family relationship that add a component to the common list of postpartum ailments, which are as follows:
- confusion and lack of clear thinking
- rapid emotional fluctuations
- abdominal pain
- vaginal bleeding
- weight gain
How does acupuncture help depression, anxiety, and the other listed problems?
The same way it helps with infertility, menopause, and stress; by stimulating the pituitary, the master endocrine gland, which regulates hormone levels. Hormones and neurotransmitters determine our mood, our energy level, and greatly influence us on the level of perception, thinking, and emotion. Because of the loss of estrogen, progesterone, and other hormones, as well as elevated cortical levels following the stress of childbirth, adjusting in the postpartum transition can be difficult. Acupuncture can provide a safe and effective treatment for this trying time.
Herbs work somewhat differently than acupuncture, in that they directly increase the building blocks, proteins and minerals, that make up the neurotransmitters and hormones, helping to replenish hormone levels. For longer than a thousand years, Asian doctors have used specific herbal formulas and documented their effects on postpartum physiology. Modern clinical experience indicates that the herbs can increase estrogen and progesterone, thereby alleviating depression, raising energy levels and stabilizing emotions. The traditional Asian doctors described this process as the strengthening of “Qi” (energy) and of “Blood” (again, blood and hormones). In contrast to herbal medicine in the west, for example, where red raspberry leaf is used for almost all women in postpartum recovery, the herbs in Asian medicine are so diverse and their effects are known to work best in combination with other herbs. A particular herbal formula, or combination of herbs in concert with each other, might be prescribed for one woman’s post-caesarian section pain, while it would not be appropriate for another woman’s post-caesarian section pain. Based on each woman’s constellation of symptoms, the type and duration of the pain, and the signs the herbalist observes during examination, a distinct, personalized prescription of herbs would be made. This is the tradition in Asian herbal medicine, and it is why we recommend you see a practitioner trained in Asian herbal medicine treatment.
Acupuncture and traditional Asian herbal medicine can help acute and chronic mastitis, as well as lactation insufficiency. Studies have indicated that acupuncture stimulates the pituitary gland to coordinate signaling to the hypothalamus and to the ovaries to regulate the sex hormones, including prolactin, which modulates lactation.
Traditional Asian medicine includes a component of nutrition and of exercise. For the postpartum transition, simple walking is the exercise most frequently recommended. It is considered important that women soon after childbirth avoid strenuous exercise, or over exercising, and that they take a gentle and gradual approach to losing any weight gained in pregnancy. Walking circulates the “qi” (energy) and creates increased pelvic blood flow. We generally recommend walking daily, gradually increasing the length and intensity of the walk according to the health and strength of the new mother.
There are foods used in the Asian medical traditions during the postpartum recovery period. They include chicken, eggs, pork, milk, and beans. Modern nutritional analysis of these foods indicates that their use in postpartum treatment is probably related to high protein and amino acid content. The amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, and cholesterol contained in these foods form new neurotransmitters and increase estrogen, progesterone, and much needed hormones. Those hormonal and neurotransmitter levels are important factors linked to our physical and emotional sense of wellbeing.