Nurturing the Garden: How Chinese Medicine Can Support Fertility, Pregnancy and Beyond
By Vladi Starkov LAc, DMQ
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda have longstanding traditions of supporting women in all stages of motherhood: pre-conception care, every phase of pregnancy, and post-partum care. I’d like to share some insights from my clinical practice as well as some time-tested wisdom, to explain how these ancient modalities can supplement and enhance the care provided by an MD or a Licensed Midwife.
Preparing the Garden: Pre-Conception Care
Having worked in the field of fertility for over 6 years, I’ve seen hundreds of couples go through this journey. Some already had exhausted trying naturally and were considering or already in the midst of receiving care from ART (Artificial Reproductive Technologies, such as IVF). While most couples don’t think about getting care until they’ve already been trying, the period of 3-6 months before attempting to get pregnant provides an opportunity to greatly strengthen the odds. That time frame allows the mother to prepare the soil, just like you would tend to a garden bed. Much like you would uproot old weeds growing in a garden, we seek to remove that which might prevent life from coming in: fibroids, cysts, hormone imbalances, endometriosis, PCOS, infections, and anovulation are some of the physical symptoms that can be healed.
To improve the odds of a healthy and successful pregnancy, it’s also essential to look at what’s happening emotionally and energetically: TCM sees the uterus as the second heart, where unresolved emotions and grievances go for long-term storage and can impede pregnancy. This can include unresolved old trauma, previous abortions and miscarriages. The process of clearing out the uterus, or what TCM calls the “Baby Palace” is highly personalized. Depending on a client’s needs, it may include a cleanse, herbs, Medical Qigong (TCM’s energetic system), massage, and acupuncture. However, sometimes we do not have the luxury of spending these months in preparation for conception, so some of these techniques may be used alongside trying naturally or ART methods. It’s important to meet the patient exactly where she is and work with her timeline.
Cultivating the Garden: Support During Pregnancy
TCM and Ayurveda provide specific guidelines for each stage of pregnancy, indicating what herbs and foods to consume or avoid. While I customize this for each patient depending on her constitution as well as what symptoms she might be having, one example is breast-milk composition, baby’s perfect food: it is composed of more fat, then protein, then sugar. This means that it is important to consume foods rich in fat and protein during pregnancy and go with less sugar. This also helps to curb nausea, stabilize blood sugar levels, and prevent pregnancy-diabetes and weight gain.
TCM can be helpful throughout the pregnancy, addressing symptoms like morning sickness and fatigue, hemorrhoids, growing pains, low back pain and high blood pressure. A specific acupuncture point will help turn a breech baby, and others help prepare the body for labor and shorten labor time. This wise and knowledgeable medicine supports the body to heal and create optimal conditions for a growing fetus.
Postpartum Care: Restoring Balance
The first 12 months after childbirth may bring an even more challenging time than pregnancy itself, as the new mom shifts from the experience of pregnancy to the highs of oxytocin bonding with the baby and breastfeeding, as well as the lows of not enough sleep and hormones crashing. This is an especially important time to support the mom with simple self-care practices, acupuncture and herbs. I highly recommend that new moms get 3 weekly treatments, starting at 2 weeks after birth, to improve recovery and bring back energy. Then, monthly treatments for a full year ensure that mama will make time for herself. While sometimes a challenge for new mommies to juggle how to come in after baby arrives, it’s incredibly beneficial: we address issues such as breastfeeding problems, baby blues, balancing self-care, scars from a C-section, recovery from any tearing, issues with hemorrhoids, sexual vitality, fatigue and much more.
As you can see, TCM contains numerous treasures for supporting mamas. Rather than attempting to become an expert yourself while going through the powerful journey of becoming a mother, get in touch with me or find another experienced practitioner who can support you every step of the way. Give yourself the gift of being nurtured as you become a healthy and happy mama!
Vladi Starkov is a Licensed Acupuncturist, Herbalist, and natural health practitioner in Sonoma County who comes from a lineage of women healers in Bulgaria. She holds extensive training in the areas of pain, women’s health, fertility, Ayurveda and psycho-spiritual emotional balance. To learn more about how Flourish Integrative Health can assist you in your journey with IVF and fertility, visit www.flourishintegrativehealth.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 707-205-1224.
Research Shows How Acupuncture Doubles Chance of Having a Baby with IVF
One of our specialties at Flourish Integrative Health is fertility. A new study from the UK shows that rates of success with IVF were twice as high among women who worked with acupuncture. Last week The Telegraph shared a “study by Homerton University Hospital in London, involved 160 couples suffering from fertility problems. Half were assigned to have four sessions of acupuncture during their IVF cycle. One year on, those who underwent the ancient practice, involving fine needles, had achieved pregnancy rates of 46.2 per cent. Among those who had not, pregnancy rates were just 21.7 per cent.”
At Flourish Integrative Health, we see great success with a patient’s IVF when combined with Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture. I recommend that patients who are considering IVF come in for the three months prior to prepare their bodies. Then during the stimulation phase of the cycle, patients would ideally come in twice per week prior to the transfer. Around IVF transfer time, it is recommended to do treatments before (usually the night before or when possible, the day of) and after (on the same day as close to the procedure as possible.). It is also recommended to come in for Acupuncture treatments for the “waiting time” as it can help with blood flow to the uterus as well as holding the embryo.
The greatest support, in my opinion is helping the woman so that she feels supported during this time. Stuart Lavery, consultant gynecologist at Hammersmith Hospital, said “it was not clear whether acupuncture had a physiological effect on the body, or whether who underwent the sessions became more relaxed because therapists spent time listening to their problems. There is no doubt that when people are given acupuncture it can feel like an extra dimension of support. Fertility treatment is stressful and it can be quite helpful to have a therapy which relaxes them.” Of course, increasing blood flow to the uterus is wonderful, and harmonizing the body’s imbalances is important. However, helping the woman feel comfortable, peaceful and happy during such a stressful time can be just as useful. There is more and more research helping us understand the role of stress and therefore anti-stress has on fertility, conception and healthy pregnancy. So no matter where you are on your fertility journey, let us be your support towards greater success!
Vladi Starkov is a Licensed Acupuncturist, Herbalist, and natural health practitioner in Sonoma County who comes from a lineage of women healers in Bulgaria. She holds extensive training in the areas of pain, women’s health, fertility, Ayurveda and psycho-spiritual emotional balance. To learn more about how Flourish Integrative Health can assist you in your journey with IVF and fertility, visit www.flourishintegrativehealth.com or call 707-205-1224.
Tuesday Tips: Bone Broth! One of the most mineral-rich foods out there!
Recently, I have been telling all of my patients about bone broth. This golden delicious liquid is chock-full of minerals and has helped several patients heal digestion, support immune system, heal and prevent injury, and recover from illness. I personally prefer Beef Marrow Bone Broth because it feels very nourishing to my body. However, if there are other conditions that are needing more tendon/ ligament support such as tendonitis, joint issues, knee pain, I will sometimes recommend Chicken feet/ necks. Check out all of the minerals that are contained in this delicious liquid. To your health, Vladi
Beef Bone Broth
Several large beef marrow bones, with or without meat attached
1 Tbs. apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
Combine all ingredients in a crockpot and fill with water. Let cook on a low setting for 12-36 hours.
Strain with a colander or sieve, lined with cheesecloth – for a clearer broth.
Enjoy warm or let cool to use in other meals. Keeps in the fridge for several days or freeze indefinitely. I take the fat out once it is solid.
- Soup – Just add vegetables, or meat to broth and heat until warm. Season after cooking with salt and pepper and your favorite spices.
- Cooking Liquid – Use broth in place of water to cook vegetables and meat in a frying pan or pot. Bring broth to a boil, add meat and vegetables, reduce heat and simmer until cooked.
- Gravy – Use to make gravy for vegetables and meat. Add organic butter (2 Tbs.) in a skillet. Whisk in broth and cook. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Tea – Drink broth like a tea. This is great in the winter or when sick. Fill a thermos and sip throughout the day. The most traditional use for seasoned broth is as a first course, to enhance the digestion of any meal to come.
- Cleanse – Forget about juice, use broth as a liquid cleanse! Mix it up with chicken, beef or pork bone broth, add spice to taste. Yum!
Bone Broth contains lots of nutrients from the cartilage and bone. These include:
- hyaluronic acid
Recipe adapted from Berkeley Nutrition by Stephanie Gruber, Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition