Acupuncture eases pain of childbirth


In the hours before her daughter's birth, Cynthia L. Taylor relied on modern medicine -- and acupuncture -- to help her to a drug-free delivery.

"The goal with acupuncture was to take the edge off the pain and help me relax -- not to eradicate the pain," said Mrs. Taylor, 28, of Pasadena. "I managed to deliver a 9-pound baby without medication."

Sarah Augustina Taylor, the first acupuncture-assisted birth at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, was born at 5:01 p.m. July 7.

Mrs. Taylor managed, she said, with help from her husband, Steve, and from Frances L. Gander, who is licensed in the ancient Chinese practice. The new mother credited acupuncture with soothing her spirit during delivery.

"Acupuncture does not act as an anesthetic in our sense of the word, but it calms the spirit," said Ms. Gander, who trained at the Traditional Acupuncture Institute in Columbia and whose practice, Three Treasures Health Services, is on Main Street in Sykesville. This was Ms. Gander's first time in assisting with childbirth.

"If the spirit is calm, pain experienced in a normal life experience is tolerable," Ms. Gander said. "As an acupuncturist, I was just assisting a normal process of life."

Dr. Michael Richman said Mrs. Taylor had Mercy's first acupuncture-assisted birth, and the first he had witnessed in his five years as an obstetrician.

"I was really surprised at the initial request," Dr. Richman said. "I had never had one like it. There were no problems at all with the acupuncture, and it provided some pain relief" for the patient.

Acupuncture works with the body's endorphins to relax the mind, Ms. Gander said.

"I just used what I already know about supporting life, and I was aware of the physiology," she said. "It was a matter of supporting the mother through Chinese energetics."

Ms. Gander also reviewed the patterns of acupuncture used in the birth process with senior colleagues. She had developed alternative plans for a fast or prolonged labor.

"My intent was to help keep her going so she could do it herself," Ms. Gander said. "Cindy did everything in her power to have this be the most perfect experience."

Ms. Gander used five different steps as Mrs. Taylor's labor progressed. She timed the needle insertions to support Mrs. Taylor's breathing, assist the fetus and regulate the mother's energy. Each needle insertion lasted 20 minutes, with a 20-minute rest afterward.

"Once energy is contacted with the needle, it continues to

move," Ms. Gander said. "Certain meridians are involved in the creation of life. Energy helps us to push life out into the world."

The needles addressed energy, blood and spirit -- the three elements vital to the birth process, she said. She initiated treatments at the wrists, ankles and knees to spur the blood flow to the uterus, she said.

Mrs. Taylor said she frequently felt nothing during the insertions, and the most she ever experienced was "a tiny little prick."

"As I progressed in labor, [Ms. Gander] had her needles ready and changed the configuration," Mrs. Taylor said.

"The acupuncture didn't hinder me," said Dr. Richman. "It kept the patient comfortable through labor, and she proceeded to full dilation without requiring anesthesia."

Mrs. Taylor had started preparatory treatment with Ms. Gander about six weeks before her delivery date at the urging of her mother, Janet L. Rittler. Ms. Rittler has been a patient of Ms. Gander's for about a year.

Exasperated by pain from osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis, Rittler, 54, turned away from traditional medicine and sought comfort in acupuncture.

"I found no reliable pain management through traditional medication," she said. "Acupuncture treatment gets rid of the pain. It both helps me manage it and relieves it. It also helps with the depression that comes along with pain."

Ms. Gander said, "Janet often told me that she hoped I could help her be well enough to hold her grandchild."

Ms. Rittler suggested that her daughter try acupuncture for childbirth.

"Frances was upfront with my daughter," said Ms. Rittler. "She told her she could only help to the point of pushing."

Ms. Gander also sent a formal request and a resume detailing her experience and credentials to Mercy Medical Center well in advance of Mrs. Taylor's delivery date.

"We had to get permission from everybody at the hospital," Dr. Richman said.

Throughout Mrs. Taylor's labor, Ms. Gander said, Dr. Richman "was quite open to the process."

Mrs. Taylor, who also had taken Lamaze classes with her husband, said the acupuncture definitely helped her relax and achieve her goal of a drug-free delivery.

"I am an occupational therapist, and I believe in modern medicine," she said. "But, I am not big on drugs or invasive procedures. Acupuncture definitely has a place alongside modern medicine, when it comes to pain relief."

Interest is growing in Chinese medicine, said Ms. Gander, a lifelong student of Chinese philosophy.

"In China, acupuncture is routinely used in childbirth," she said. "There, they blend Western obstetric techniques and acupuncture."

She said she would love to assist in another delivery, perhaps with a nurse midwife.

"Nothing was more exciting," Ms. Gander said. "In the last minutes before Cindy's delivery, I sat outside the door with Janet and held her hand. When we heard the baby's first cry, we both cried," she said.

"I felt the acupuncture helped, or she wouldn't have gotten that far," said Ms. Rittler. "It just shows eastern and Western medicine can work together."

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