Acupressure for Constipation During Pregnancy

Constipation during pregnancy is often caused by a blockage of energy, or Qi, in a pregnant woman’s large intestine. In this piece, acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist Rebecca Young provides a practical tool for midwives and doulas to help pregnant women overcome this unpleasant challenge during the nine months. By using acupressure on the expectant mother’s wrist, a midwife can help to start the flow of Qi in the woman’s body, thereby relieving her constipation symptoms. 

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Chinese medicine has been in use for over 3000 years. It’s a system of medicine that looks at your body in a completely different way to what many of us are used to and it’s extremely beneficial for pregnancy, birth and maternal health. Chinese medicine takes a holistic view on health; that being your mind, body and spirit are connected. This concept is never more apparent than when a woman is birthing. If her mind and body are connected, magic happens!

To explain how Chinese medicine works, let’s look at the common symptom of constipation during pregnancy as an example. The problem can be due to a number of reasons. Low iron levels means many women take supplements and some brands can be difficult to digest, leading to blocks in their system. There may be excess heat in her body, drying out the stool. It may be that her large intestine energy is stagnated through improper food or lack of exercise that, again, could lead to a block. Essentially, the underlying issue needs to be addressed and acupuncture or acupressure techniques can effectively re-regulate bowel movements.

There are many acupressure points on our body and some can help relieve constipation. These points lie on energy channels called meridians that, from a Chinese medicine perspective, make up our body’s anatomy.

These acupressure points work particularly well when constipation is mild, which is great, as this allows the woman to use her own hands to access the acupressure points. If her symptoms are more severe though, she will need acupuncture to affect her body more deeply and bring about lasting change. Acupuncture uses fine needles to remove blockages, supplement deficiencies or clear excesses in meridians to bring the body back to balance.

There are 12 main meridians in the human body, and these are connected to inner organs. This is why we can place pressure or a fine needle on the outside and it helps to benefit the inside.

Qi (pronounced “chee”) flows through these meridians. According to Chinese medicine, constipation is seen as Qi (energy) that is either stagnating, or that has become too dry. Your large intestine energy should go down and out of your body daily, even during pregnancy. By using the following acupressure techniques, you can help to get the Qi flowing again and bring more moisture to the area if needed.

There are a couple of points that will help with constipation, but for the sake of this article, I’m going to recommend one to try that works with many of my clients. It’s important to note that acupressure is different to massage because it’s sustained pressure on a certain point to bring about a benefit.

Before you begin, it helps if your client can rate her constipation on a scale of one to ten (ten being the worst). This way you will be able to gauge the change when using acupressure.

We are going to use the San Jiao number six (SJ-6) point. This is found on the San Jiao meridian on her outer arm (see picture). This meridian regulates the water passages of her body. To locate the point, start in the middle of her outer wrist crease, the side that sees the sun. Take your four fingers and lay them across from her wrist crease going up her arm. The point is found in the middle of her arm at the edge of your four fingers. [To be technical it’s: 3 cun (1cun is the width of her thumb) up from the wrist crease on the lateral aspect of the arm. It’s located between the radius and the extensor digitorum communis muscle, close to the border of the radius.]. Acupressure points are mirrored on both sides of the body.

Press deeply – if it hurts in a “good” way, you are on the right spot – if not, move a little more towards your elbow crease and try again. Keep moving around this spot until you find the “good hurt”. Hold this point for three to five minutes and do this 2-3 times a day. She should notice a difference after a couple of days, if not sooner. Tell her if a friend or partner is around to ask them to help. It’s good to get them involved and always feels better when someone else does it!

If she doesn’t find these points to be effective, it means she may need a different one, as everyone is different. There are many acupressure points that help with constipation. It could also mean she needs to change her diet. I had one client whose constipation always got better after acupuncture but then got worse as she ate curries for a week (hot food) until she saw me again. The role of diet cannot be underestimated.

Rebecca Mar Young runs Acubirth and the Red Tent Health Centre with Naomi Abeshouse in Sydney, Australia. She is a government registered acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist who specializes in pregnancy and birth and has been in practice for six years. Acubirth is an on-line education website for midwives and birth workers that teaches eastern remedies such as acupressure for pregnancy, birth and the post-natal period. Red Tent is a natural health clinic that specializes in treating pregnant women and children. She lives in Sydney with her husband and two young children. She is passionate about improving women’s experiences of pregnancy and birth, as she believes these go on to shape their lives.

Disclaimer: Please consult with an expert before administering advice listed on the Birth Institute blog. We encourage exploring alternative healing modalities throughout your midwifery education, but please be well-informed before using these practices to support mothers.

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