For many women, the excitement of a positive pregnancy test is followed just a few weeks later by symptoms that are just the opposite of exciting- including nausea. As an acupuncturist who frequently works with women in early pregnancy, nausea is one of the most common symptoms my patients report. For some it can begin almost immediately, but for most it will begin between 6-8 weeks along. Doctors still don’t know precisely why nausea happens, though it’s thought to have something to do with the increase in hormone levels (HCG and Estrogen) during early pregnancy.
Not everyone who experiences nausea has exactly the same set of symptoms, so it makes sense that it should be treated and managed in a way that makes sense for you. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) (including acupuncture) sees nausea as a result of several possible “disharmonies” in the body. Depending on your symptoms and your health history, your practitioner will determine which one is present and choose points to help.
When performed by a Licensed Acupuncturist experienced in providing prenatal care, acupuncture can be a safe and effective way to manage your nausea during pregnancy. Having a treatment once or twice per week is usually enough to keep nausea at a manageable level. Most of the points used are on your arms and legs. Acupuncture can be a deeply relaxing experience, with most people either napping during treatment or simply resting while focused on their breathing.
Your acupuncturist can show you pressure points to stimulate at home that will help to prolong the effects of the acupuncture treatment. The points aren’t the same for every woman- it will depend on your symptoms and health history. For example, someone with intense fatigue who tends to feel very cold will usually find relief from a different set of points than someone who sweats easily and has acid reflux in addition to nausea.
This being said, there are a few techniques that anyone can try. The most famous acu-point for nausea is Pericardium 6. It’s located on the inside of the forearm, about 3 finger-widths up from the wrist crease. Try applying firm pressure with your thumb for 2-3 minutes at a time. You can also try pulling lightly and slightly outwards on your pinky toe for about 20 minutes. Both of these techniques seem to help women quite frequently!
Over many years in practice, women have told me that stress, working long hours and overexerting themselves makes the nausea worse. Keep in mind that overexertion is relative- what felt normal pre-pregnancy may now be overexertion for you. If you only take one of these lifestyle tips to heart, this is the one to pick. A little extra rest really can help to reduce nausea.
Eat What You Can, Frequently, And Focus On Good Quality
Once nausea begins, many women tell me they no longer have an appetite for fruits or vegetables, and meat can also be tough to stomach. Starches, breads and pastas as well as bland soups are usually easier to tolerate. This inability to eat lots of fruits and veggies can make some women feel guilty and worry their baby won’t get all the necessary nutrients. Rest assured- at this point in pregnancy, the fetus is getting all the nutrients it needs from you, regardless of whether you are eating vegetables. Eat whatever you can and make it the best quality possible (whole grain pastas and breads, for example). If the thought of a piece of chicken breast is unappetizing, instead consider having beans, lentils or eggs (hard-boiled or scrambled) with toast as a healthy source of protein. Smaller, more frequent meals are helpful to keep your blood sugar stable.
This is not so much to eat, but to smell. In New York City (especially during summertime in the subway) it can be a lifesaver to have something fresh and clean handy in case you come across strong smells. I recommend cutting a lemon or lime in half, wrapping it in cheesecloth and carrying it with you. You can also simply dab essential oils on a tissue or at the corners of your nose. Women also find that the combination of sweet and sour helps abate their nausea- try a little apple juice mixed with water and lemon or lime juice, or simply let sour candies dissolve in your mouth.
Nausea in pregnancy tends to ebb and flow, but for most begins to get a lot better between weeks 12-18. Between being mindful of your triggers, resting more and getting additional support in the form of acupuncture and/or acupressure, it can be possible to decrease your nausea to a very manageable level until it begins to naturally subside.
Contributed by Susan Wallmeyer, founder of NY Chi Acupuncture, an acupuncture practice centered around women’s health including prenatal care in Manhattan’s Chelsea/Flatiron neighborhood.