Pregnancy is a normal and natural experience of life, but there are so many reason why a mother may be experiencing any degree of stress and anxiety in the months leading up to and during childbirth.
In treating acute and chronic stress and anxiety it is important to first identify the emotional or physical cause. This may include the addition of counseling with a physiologist. Often having a safe environment for women to talk through their fears is all they need.
Fear, Stress and Anxiety all have marked effects on labor progression and pain perception. When people are frightened or stressed the body will activate the flight or flight response. This causes an increased production of catecholamine and adrenaline. The heart begins to beat faster, breathing becomes more rapid, muscles tense, blood pressure rises and blood is diverted from the periphery to vital organs (unfortunately for baby and childbirth, this does not include the uterus).
During labor there can be some signs that show that a mother is not coping well with childbirth, and has begun to panic and become stressed or anxious about the event. This could be restlessness, panic, high pitched vocalizations, increased pain perception due to a decrease in endorphin production, slowing of contractions due to drops in Oxytocin production, and fetal distress.
When a mother has measurable levels of stress and anxiety during her pregnancy, especially in the last months leading up to childbirth, there is an increased chance that it will intensify during childbirth and an increased chance that the mother will need medical interventions such as Pitocin to speed contraction or epidural to help with pain.
Treating Stress and Anxiety with Acupuncture
Anxiety in pregnancy is called Zi Fan, or "child mental restlessness." In pregnancy women are prone to bouts of anxiety, either from an emotional root (worry, fear, or anger), or from a physical imbalance (Qi stagnation, Yin deficiency, or excessive Phlegm from poor diet, which cause excess heat, and the heat causes anxiety). Pregnant women already suffer from excessive heat during pregnancy, so it is very easy for them to become imbalanced and anxious.
When treating Stress and Anxiety with Acupuncture, it is important to differentiate the underlying cause and treat based on the root imbalance.
Acupuncture used in times of high Stress and Anxiety work by...
Treatments may include the needling of auricular points such as Point Zero (directly effects the autonomic nervous system); Shen Men (directly effects the cerebral cortex to increase endorphins); Tranquilizer (facilitates relaxation).
When preparing for Labor and Delivery, it is recommending that a women receive Acupuncture at least 1 time weekly from 36 weeks to delivery. In 1998, a research study compared the duration of labor in women who received Acupuncture from 36 weeks gestation and women who received no Acupuncture. The study concluded that the Acupuncture group had a positive effect on the duration of first stage of labor (time between 3cm cervical dilation and complete dilation). The Acupuncture group had a median duration of 3 hours 26 minutes while the control group (non Acupuncture group) had a median duration of 5 hours and 35 minutes. (Tempfer, 1998)