Health & Nutrition

A leading acupuncturist shares her postpartum essentials

Jessie Day, in partnership with Nature Heals  |   6 Mar 2024

The postpartum period – or fourth trimester – and the experience you get, is unique to every mum and pregnancy. If you’re a first-time new parent, postpartum acupuncture might be the last thing you’ve factored in, amongst a haze of nappies, night feeds and health visitor checks. That was me. 

And, also me, as a second-time num, making time for acupuncture with a newborn and toddler in tow was a challenge. So much so that I didn’t make it happen. But the thing is, I really could have. A session can be super-quick and your baby can even sleep on your tummy during, in some practices. So I should have rallied the childcare, booked it in, and reaped the benefits. 

Should have, but didn’t, and in future – if we go for a third – I absolutely will. Here’s why.

postpartum acupuncture points

Is acupuncture helpful postpartum?

For the vast majority of women who go for postpartum acupuncture – yes, this is an established and extremely supportive treatment. It integrates superbly with the allopathic (conventional) medical care you’ll be receiving, with recent studies classing it as a promising treatment for postpartum depression (PPD), in particular, and breastfeeding support. 

To find out more about the benefits, I touched base with TRB founder Eloise’s go-to fertility, pregnancy and postpartum acupuncture practitioner, Karla, founder of Nature Heals

Part of the TRB pro panel and London College of Traditional Acupuncture / Northern College of Acupuncture alumni, Karla is a highly experienced practitioner, specialising in using acupuncture – including the neoclassical one-needle technique, Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) and Arvigo Maya Abdominal therapy to treat a range of interconnected issues – from gynaecological and fertility to pregnancy and postpartum. 

Book straight into Karla’s clinic for expert, individualised postpartum acupuncture and pre-birth support and treatment. 

Keep reading for Karla’s expert 101 on postpartum acupuncture – from the (many!) benefits to when to begin and specific information built around c-section recovery, postpartum anxiety and breastfeeding support.

1. How long (on average) should we ‘factor in’ for postpartum recovery?

40 days – or four to six weeks – is a good rule of thumb to go by. But, in reality, this will be completely unique to your pregnancy, birth and postpartum situation. Going by the 40 days framework, this time gives you as the mother an opportunity to fully recover, before resuming ‘normal life’. 

The postpartum period is a time of transition to motherhood, where rest is paramount – physical and emotional changes will be regular, especially in the first week or so, and grounding yourself is key. Think staying close to home, cuddling with your baby as much as possible, saying ‘yes’ to help and setting yourself the goal of rest, and nourishment. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) focuses closely on the postpartum period as a time where the body is more vulnerable than usual, encouraging further grounding by keeping warm – away from draughts, for example, even in summer. 

Two key areas to keep toasty warm are your abdomen – this area has recently worked incredibly hard, after all – and your feet. So get the cosy socks and blankets out of storage and on the bed or sofa, close to you and baby. 

Nutrition-wise, focus on nourishing foods in this period – bone broth-based soups are ideal – to build your energy reserves and support breastfeeding, if you’re doing so. Think of these 40 days, or however long you need, as setting the foundations for good whole-body health in the coming months, and years. Inadequate rest and care of the new mother, postpartum, can lead to real problems down the line. 

2. Postpartum acupuncture benefits

The postpartum period can be a wonderful time, alongside being very exhausting. Every experience will be unique and, if you’ve had a baby before, you may know a little more about what to expect. But for the most part, it’s hard to know exactly how things will be – and a little prep can go a long way. 

TCM states that the way a woman treats her body in the first days postpartum can affect her health for the rest of her life. Postpartum acupuncture and use of moxa (moxibustion), ideally five days after your birth, is an effective and gently powerful treatment, relied on to strengthen the new mother’s qi (our essential life source).

Conventional medicine acknowledges the benefits of postpartum acupuncture, and its role in supporting: 

  • hormonal balance after childbirth, helping with common symptoms like night sweats
  • postpartum pain relief, such as back pain, perineal discomfort, pelvic pain, sciatic pain c-section recovery – acupuncture after c-section is increasingly recommended for dynamic results 
  • anxiety and stress reduction, promoting relaxation – the postpartum period can be overwhelming – both physically and emotionally – and acupuncture can be a powerful support here 
  • postpartum depression, with proven results on a global scale
  • milk production for breastfeeding, providing stimulation support where low supply is an issue
  • mastitis prevention and treatment, reducing breast inflammation 
  • energy levels, helping with fatigue and exhaustion
acupuncture for postpartum anxiety

3. How soon can we begin acupuncture, after birth?

In my practice, your first treatment can be done from day five after birth. Alongside acupuncture, I often recommend using moxibustion at this time, as a gentle and comforting treatment to restore the essential ‘kidney qi’ in the body, which has been used during pregnancy and birth. I (or the practitioner you work with) can factor this in when discussing your history, experiences and treatment planning. 

Moxibustion is a non-invasive, commonly used treatment in TCM, which involves warming and stimulating specific points on the body with a gently burning herb called moxa – also known as mugwort. We don’t ‘burn’ the body, of course, the practice is to burn this spongy herb on or near the body, and you’ll usually just feel a comforting sensation. 

Postpartum moxibustion usually focuses over a mother’s abdomen – back to that principle idea of keeping this area warm, during those first 40 days. It helps to restore energy and support recovery, increasing vitality within the body.

4. Which are the standard postpartum acupuncture points?

In general, acupuncture treatment is suitable for most women and would ideally form part of the 40 days postpartum recovery period. 

It depends on the individual, but during birth, a woman loses an abundance of qi, blood, fluids, and Jing essence – a key part of your overall health, energy and vitality – becoming deficient in these vital substances. 

The acupuncture points I often use to replenish here are: 

  • DU20 (Baihui)
  • EX-HN 3 (Yintang)
  • EX-HN 1 (Si shen cong) 
  • PC6 (Nei Guan)
  • ST36 (Zu San Li)
  • SP6 (Sanyinjiao)
  • LIV3 (Tai Chong) 

However, as with any acupuncture, the point we use will always depend on how the patient’s pulse feels on the day of the treatment. It’s so important to meet a new mother where she’s at in her postpartum space, and treat according to how she’s presenting.

 5. Can acupuncture help postpartum depression?

Postpartum depression is far more common than people think – I think it’s important to vocalise and acknowledge that, first off. 

New mothers need time to adjust to the demands on their bodies, minds and new lives. As a society, and especially in the west, there’s often just not enough focus on supporting and restoring maternal wellbeing, or taking care of the new mother. The focus is on the new baby, and we expect mums to just get on with things, catch up and adjust ‘on the job’. 

A Chinese medicine practitioner can help by getting to the root cause of postnatal depression and/or anxiety, and using acupuncture, herbal medicine, diet and lifestyle modifications to treat. 

Acupuncture is showing promising results as a treatment path for postpartum depression – more research is needed, however, and hopefully we’ll see this come through in the next few years. Chinese herbal medicine also commonly gets fantastic results as a treatment, focusing on herbs that have a restorative effect on the metabolism.

acupuncture after c-section

6. Acupuncture after c-section – how can it help?

Acupuncture helps to break up the scar tissue commonly caused by a c-section birth – we’re thinking here about scarring (internal and external), adhesions, pain, restricted movement, issues with digestion, and even possible problems with future pregnancies.  

It’s recommended that the sooner you go in for treatment after your surgery, the better, optimally up to five days afterwards.  

The combination of both moxibustion and acupuncture can help to jump-start the healing process, reduce the amount of pain you feel, and reduce scarring from your c-section surgery.  

7. Can acupuncture support healthy postpartum weight loss?

Yes, acupuncture can help you with postpartum weight loss and rebalancing within your body, largely by getting to work on your hormone shifts and balance.

While some women seem to ‘effortlessly’ return to their pre-pregnancy weight within just a few months (please know, however, that we’re all on our journey, navigating unique challenges!),  others find those extra few pounds persist, no matter what. 

Regular treatment can bolster weak digestion and reduce cravings – although we should honour hunger signals during this time, especially when summoning energy for round-the-clock baby care and, if this is you, breastfeeding. 

Acupuncture can also help to reduce weight that might come from prolonged stress – really common when you’re looking after your new baby – where increased cortisol levels are often linked to weight gain. 

So yes, acupuncture can support weight loss, but in the early days, weeks and months it’s important to take good, gentle, loving care of yourself, and focus on rebuilding strength by resting, and eating nourishing foods.

8. Is acupuncture safe while breastfeeding?

Absolutely! Even better, acupuncture can also help to: 

  • promote lactation
  • prevent common breastfeeding problems like mastitis
  • help with consistent milk production

Acupuncture can be a powerful support for breastfeeding, whether it’s in the first week or as you navigate supply and leaving your baby for the first time, or as you transition to different feeding set-ups while maintaining a supply. 

My 3 tips for postpartum healing (acupuncture and otherwise!)

  1. Take it easy, stay in your pyjamas for as long as possible and know there’s no need to rush to keep up with trends or friends – everything worth having will find its way back, when you’re in the right space
  2. Stay warm, and don’t hesitate to ask for help – whether it’s requesting assistance or having a friend cook a meal for you
  3. Take time for yourself, even if it means asking a friend to look after a baby for an hour. Prioritise self-care with nourishing, warming foods, and seek treatment when necessary

Remember you are not alone, and that there are many resources and experienced, empathetic practitioners ready to support you. I’d love to help! Book an appointment (before you forget!), and together we’ll get your recovery well underway. 

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