Created by the Center for Spirituality & Healing and Charlson Meadows.

Are there complementary therapies I can use while pregnant?

Question: I am experiencing a healthy, “textbook” pregnancy.  Are there any complementary therapies that are specifically recommended, or any I should avoid?

Answer:  Carolyn Torkelson, a family physician at the Women’s Health Center at the University of Minnesota writes: 
Congratulations on your healthy pregnancy! I hope you are enjoying this special time.

Many Western technologies, treatments, and pharmaceuticals, often called “allopathic,” have literally been lifesavers for women during pregnancy and childbirth.  However, modern medicine is still a relative newcomer.  Many of the therapies, now classified as “complementary” or “alternative,” may have helped your ancestors throughout their pregnancies and can help you today.

Here is a short list of complementary therapies that are effective for many women.  It is vital to note that discussing any therapy, either complementary or allopathic, with all members of your care team is crucial at all times, but especially during pregnancy.

Diet and Exercise:   Two of the most important things you can do to feel better aren’t technically complementary therapies (although they are included in many alternative medical systems). You will have undoubtedly heard from your gynecologist or nurse practitioner that good nutrition and exercise are crucial to doing well in pregnancy.  Maintaining a regular program of exercise will help prevent unnecessary weight gain, may relieve mild physical discomfort, reduce stress and will keep you in shape for the workout of labor.   

Follow your provider’s guidelines for a healthy diet in pregnancy to make sure that you and the baby get the nutrients you need while minimizing excess weight gain.  In particular, try to eat lots of whole, fresh fruits and vegetables, locally grow and organic if possible.   Eat iron rich foods to help prevent anemia.   Drink plenty of fluids—at least eight glasses/day to help support your increased blood volume and prevent constipation.   And make sure that your protein intake is adequate by eating 6 ounces of animal protein a day or its equivalent from the poultry, fish, beans, and nuts groups.  

Mind-Body Therapies:
  Another important way to take care of yourself is to reduce your stress.  Physical discomfort and emotional stress are typical throughout the healthiest pregnancies and certainly occur in a more acute form during delivery.  Relaxation exercises, meditation, and breathing awareness methods often help women master the natural anxiety they may feel during pregnancy or childbirth.  Clinical hypnosis (including self-hypnosis) requires some initial training, but can be a great help with significant pain or discomfort.

Chiropractic & Massage:
Both therapies can address and possibly prevent the lower back pain, hormonal headaches, and other discomforts that often appear during pregnancy.  Many chiropractors and massage therapists specialize in treatments for pregnant women, and some even feature equipment that accommodates expectant mothers’ ever-changing figures.  Ask your regular provider, or look for a pregnancy-friendly practitioner in your community.

Herbs: In general, healthcare providers recommend no additional medications during pregnancy and this applies to herbal medications as well (especially in the first trimester).  However, there may be exceptions to this rule if the patient is consulting a trained naturopath.  The bottom line is that you should talk with your healthcare practitioner and naturopath before using herbs during pregnancy.  A good source to reference is the NIH’s Office of Dietary Supplements.

Acupressure & Acupuncture
As you have probably already discovered, many physical ailments occur during pregnancy that cannot be addressed with conventional pharmaceuticals.  (Ask any pregnant woman with a bad cold who has puzzled over whether or not she should take cough syrup or other over-the-counter medications!)  This is why you may want to explore acupuncture and/or acupressure at this time.  Because neither practice introduces any substance into the body, they are commonly used for pregnancy-related conditions.  Seek a qualified practitioner in your community.

Light Therapy: Unfortunately, pregnancy is not always a happy time for everyone. Depression affects as many as 10% of all pregnant women.  The good news is that no one has to endure depression during pregnancy in silence. The first step is to find a supportive mental health professional to discuss your situation. Some woman have found “light therapy” helpful and the initial results of clinical trials at Columbia, Pittsburgh, and Yale are promising.  But please remember that some depression is most effectively treated with medication and don’t hesitate to talk to your gynecologist or nurse practitioner if you or your mental health professional think you need antidepressants or other drugs.

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