Going under the needle! Everything you need to know about acupuncture

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Have you ever thought about getting acupuncture?

The aspect of traditional Chinese medicine has really made its way to the fore of the Western world in recent years. It has gained recognition for its ability to regulate hormonal fluctuations, manage stress, and improve blood flow to reproductive organs.

Of course, being stabbed with lots of little needles might make even the strongest of us squeamish. And we’re sure you have plenty of questions before diving into the practice head-on.

Don’t worry as we sat down with Ask the Midwife’s licensed acupuncturist and member of the Acupuncture Foundation Professional Association (AFPA) Sara Buttanshaw all the questions that you might have before booking your first treatment.

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What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a holistic medicine. Physically it is the insertion of time needles into specific points on the body that are said to have a kind of therapeutic benefit. The medicine goes back 3,000 years into ancient China and how we practice today is based on a lot of that knowledge.

It is all about balancing your yin and your yang and your energies. Your qi which is your life force so we keep that moving freely in the body.

I always have patients asking me what it actually does and I always give them two options. The traditional viewpoint is that we are balancing yin and yang and we are moving energy blood freely in the body. In these different channels, we have meridians. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, meridians are channels where the qi, or life energy, flows. If people want a more Western approach, the closest thing you can work it into is the central nervous system.

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What are the benefits of acupuncture?

The main things I would say are mood-related: stress, anxiety, low mood and PMS. The next one is probably pain in general. That can be things like endometritis, period pain or just an injured shoulder – any kind of pain. Acupuncture helps regulate the body – regulating periods, regulating digestion, regulating your sleep. So there are three groups: Mood, regulation and pain.

My clinic at Ask The Midwife is very pregnancy and fertility-related. I also do labour induction acupuncture so obviously the points I use for induction, I wouldn’t use for pregnancy. In pregnancy, I wouldn’t use the needles in certain areas like over the bump or on the lower back most of the time. There are a couple of what you would call traditionally forbidden points that I don’t use.

How can you use acupuncture during pregnancy?

With Ask the Midwife I’ve had lots of pre-birth acupuncture. This is a protocol which has been very heavily researched. There is a treatment that you can undergo one to two times a week from week 36 which is called cervical ripening. It is basically preparing the cervix to soften and dilate for labour, to help to encourage labour to start on time. Studies have shown that it reduces the need for induction or emergency C-section and epidural.

There is a pressure point on the leg where I can feel what stage the cervix is at. Sometimes if people come in near their due date and say “Do you think it will come on time?” I can answer because of that pressure point. If the cervix is softening, the point on the leg is meant to feel like it is full of water, it’s so strange. Sometimes it is a tight leg muscle and I’m like that is going to be overdue.

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What are the misconceptions about acupuncture?

I guess some people just think it is a one-off treatment, which is an issue, it really is kind of each treatment builds on the last. So it is kind of something you need to commit to. Often people come in and nothing major happens, so they think it didn’t work.

Another thing is that there are some people who actually think it isn’t regulated at the moment. I’ve had people ask me if I am definitely using single-use needles. They are thinking I might just clean them off in the back, all of that is absolutely not okay. So I think people have this idea that it is a bit kind of grimy or back alley. But no it is really sterile, clean and researched now.

How often should you get acupuncture?

I never want people to be relying on acupuncture. The goal is usually we get to a point where you are coming in for maintenance treatments every month or every other month just to boost your immune system. We balance out any niggles, but usually in the beginning, especially if we are working with any kind of fertility or period issues, I suggest six weeks in a row minimum. Because then we have seen every stage of your cycle. Then we just reassess, and people start spacing out to every two weeks, then three and then once a month.

I often get a kind of thing where people quit too soon, especially with muscular things. So, when they get 99 per cent better they think great I don’t have to come again, and three weeks later I see them again and they’re like: “No I shouldn’t have stopped I’ve gone back like a few steps”. It is preventative so you always need to do it a little bit more than you think. I do communicate a lot with people and say what I think they need.”

Acupuncture at Ask the Midwife is available on Thursday from 12pm to 6pm and can be booked directly through their website here.


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