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Well Magazine
Complementing Traditional Pregnancy Practices

Oh, Baby, Baby

By Angela Fornelli
April 1, 2008

When Corinne Dawson and her husband, Jonathan, decided they were ready to expand their family beyond the two of them, they knew going in that it would take six to 12 months for Corinne's body to be ready for pregnancy after 12 years on birth control.

In addition to waiting it out, Corinne, 34, wanted to make every effort she could to increase her likelihood of getting pregnant before using medications or medical procedures.

"When you really want to get pregnant and it's not happening at your pace, it's helpful to do something to give you a sense of control over it," Corinne said.

Corinne, a Pilates instructor and Albany Park resident, consulted with her physician and decided to try acupuncture to help get her ovulation schedule back on track. After a few sessions, she was thrilled to discover that the acupuncture not only normalized her cycle, but it greatly reduced her stress level - one of the most important prerequisites to getting pregnant.

"You don't know how much stress is affecting you until you treat it and see the difference. It certainly is relaxing," she said.

Women dealing with infertility often experience increased stress, which in turn increases cortisol levels in the body and inhibits pregnancy, said Dr. Maura Brennan, obstetrician and gynecologist at Swedish Covenant Hospital. Brennan said she and many of her colleagues support and even promote the use of complementary therapies like acupuncture along with lifestyle changes that encourage health and stress relief for women trying to get pregnant. In fact, even more so than age, a woman's overall health is crucial for pregnancy, Brennan said.

"The reason they said back in our grandmothers' era that it's more difficult to get pregnant after 35 is because health began deteriorating at that age," she said. "No matter what age you are, women who exercise, eat well, stress less, take prenatal vitamins, don't smoke and sleep well have a better chance of getting pregnant and maintaining a healthy pregnancy and baby."

Brennan is a believer in acupuncture and many of the other therapies that help women reduce stress and boost their health before, during and after pregnancy, including yoga, massage and Watsu.

ACUPUNCTURE

Acupuncture increases blood flow to the uterus, enriches the blood supply and thickens the uterine walls altogether making a "cozy, comfortable environment for a fetus to develop," said Sandra Sumi, RN, board certified acupuncturist at the Galter LifeCenter.

Studies on the effectiveness of acupuncture have revealed it to help yield higher pregnancy rates when used in conjunction with assisted reproduction therapy or as a standalone treatment. It's also been shown to regulate hormone levels and, as Corinne discovered, reduce stress. In fact, because trying to get pregnant is often stressful, Sumi said she targets stress and fertility at the same time. And don't forget that if you're having trouble getting pregnant, it's not a bad idea to have your partner go under the needle so he can be in balance, too, Sumi said.

During pregnancy, acupuncture can keep the baby positioned correctly in the uterus and reduce morning sickness. Be sure you see a board certified practitioner who will know which acupuncture points are safely used during pregnancy.

Finally, acupuncture has proven to help induce labor and assist in reversing breech presentations.

The use of acupuncture proved helpful for Corinne and Jonathan. Corinne started her treatments in January 2006 after trying to get pregnant for a year to no avail. Two months later, she was pregnant with her daughter, Sofia, who is now 17 months old.

MASSAGE

Pre- and post-natal massage relieves lower back pain and balances hormones by promoting increased circulation. It also can improve blood supply and nutrients to the muscles, decrease muscular tightness, release toxins from the body and stimulate the brain to produce endorphins helping to boost your mood.

Overall, massage is a great way to relax and relieve stress so you have a better chance of getting pregnant and maintaining a healthy pregnancy. Be sure to tell your massage therapist that you are pregnant or recently gave birth, and it's best to see a massage therapist who is certified in pre- and post-natal massage. It is recommended that women wait six weeks after giving birth to receive a postnatal massage.

WATSU

Watsu is a form of aquatic therapy that incorporates the principles of Zen Shiatsu into a relaxing 94- to 96-degree water temperature. It can be especially beneficial to pregnant women, as floating in the warm water helps relieve pressure on the lower back and spine caused by carrying a baby. The warm water temperature, close to body temperature, also helps relax the muscles.

"The mother's body is expanding, and the body has to compensate for the changes in weight as the uterus continues to grow. In an environment that has no gravity, like water, the body is able to relax and not have the constant pressure, and the mother is brought into a deeper state of relaxation while unloading the weight-bearing joints," said Ingrid Keating, OTR/L, complementary health services supervisor at the Galter LifeCenter.

In the end, this therapy allows for increased range of motion, improved breathing, reduced stress and anxiety, better sleep patterns, more flexibility and better digestion.

DIET

Pregnancy is a great time to get your diet on the right track. Be sure to maintain a healthy, well-rounded diet consisting of the following nutrients, as recommended by physicians.

Polcyn says clients often float for hours at a time. Quitting smoking, problem solving or creative visualization—such are the possible positive outcomes, as long as you can take the isolation. "One guy comes in for about three hours every day. I never ask him what he's doing". Polcyn says his philosophy is to let people just come and do their own thing. "I tell people to try it three to five times to fully understand what all the fuss is about, and why it's been an industry for over 30 years." SpaceTime Tanks, 2526 N Lincoln Ave between Lill Ave and Altgeld St (773-472-2700, www.spacetimetanks.com).

  • Proteins act as the building blocks for your baby's cells, providing nutrients your baby needs to grow, maintain and repair muscles and tissues.
  • Calcium helps strengthen your bones and the baby's growth.
  • Fats help your body use the vitamins, proteins and carbohydrates you ingest.
  • Carbohydrates provide needed vitamins, minerals and fiber.
  • Folic acid helps your body make the extra blood that is needed during pregnancy.
  • Cholesterol builds the hormones estrogen and progesterone to maintain pregnancy.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids help your baby's brain development and provide mood support to you.
  • Iron supports growth of the fetus and produces the extra blood that is needed during pregnancy.
  • Water helps build new tissue, carry nutrients and waste products in the body and aid digestion. It helps form amniotic fluid around the fetus and helps prevent the uterus from contracting before it should.

YOGA

Moderate exercise before and during pregnancy is considered safe as long as you don't have any medical or obstetric complications. Exercise like yoga promotes strength and stamina, improves your posture and helps you sleep better. It can also help reduce discomforts of pregnancy such as leg cramps, backaches, constipation and swelling.

In fact, yoga can be a great way to prepare physically and mentally for labor and motherhood. The awareness of your body's movement, balance and coordination gained during yoga allows you to better control your core and pelvic floor muscles during labor. In addition, although prenatal yoga is not a labor preparation course, you'll get instruction on how to breathe that can help during labor.

After giving birth, yoga can be a great way to make sure you are taking some stress-busting time for yourself an important task many new moms don't do. And you can carry your deep breathing techniques to situations at home, such as when the baby won't stop crying, to help you stay calm and controlled. The muscle control and balance you learn during yoga will also deter strain on your back from constantly picking up and putting down the baby and toys.

As with other complementary practices, yoga is designed to relieve stress hormone levels in the body, ultimately allowing you to better handle some of the demands placed on your body during this time.

In addition to these options, be sure to get proper sleep to allow your body to rejuvenate and take the pre-natal vitamins your doctor recommends. If you plan to participate in acupuncture, Watsu aquatic therapy or any of the activities above, keep your doctor informed.

©2008 Chicago Watsu