Pregnancy in Traditional Chinese Medicine: Qi is the Key

Pregnancy Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has a different way of understanding how your baby develops in your womb. TCM has been around for about 3,000 years, so maybe we can learn something from this ancient wisdom.

At the core of TCM is the flow of vital energy called Qi (pronounced “chee”). TCM believes that a healthy pregnancy is one in which Qi flows freely into a developing baby. When this happens, mother and baby are in harmony.  Harmony leads to health and wellbeing for mother and child.

In TCM, harmony is produced when there is balance between yin and yang. Yang is a positive force that is described as light, warming, and active. Yin is its opposite force, which is described as dark, cool, and passive.

When yin and yang are in balance, Qi flows freely.  You and your baby are in harmony with the universe. If Yin and Yang are out of balance, and disharmony disturbs pregnancy, the risk of bad outcomes like miscarriage, pregnancy complications, or birth defects increases.

Maintaining Balance and Qi During Pregnancy

TCM maintains balance during pregnancy through some restrictions in diet and activities. There are lots of these. The reasons for some of the restrictions are lost in history. In addition to these traditional taboos, TCM obstetrical culture also includes a program of fetal and maternal health called Taijiao. The term Taijiao means fetal education.

Pregnancy diet may include restriction of foods that are considered yin quality. These “cold” foods may slow down blood flow and Qi flow between mother and baby. When the body is cold, it has to work harder to maintain energy. Cold foods include ice cream, watermelon, and bananas. Other foods are thought to give negative energy during pregnancy. These include shrimp, mango, and pineapple.

Behavior restrictions may make more sense to our Western minds, because these taboos are aimed at reducing stress. Studies support the fact that stress can be a negative influence on pregnancy. TCM believes that some activities produce negative energy, so they are discouraged during pregnancy. They include moving, making major changes in the home, going to a wedding, birthday celebration, or funeral, and visiting a graveyard.

Taijiao is a practice that encourages a mother’s emotional and physical health. It also encourages development of a mind and body connection between mother and developing baby. If these goals are met, mother and baby are in harmony. The baby has a better chance of growing and developing normally.

The Basics of Taijiao

Taijiao has three components, called preventive, indirect, and direct methods. Many of these methods are also part of Western prenatal care, but there is a greater focus on the mind-body connection and mindfulness in TCM:

  • Examples of preventive taijiao include education about the importance of sleep, avoidance of harmful substances, and avoidance of loud noise.
  • Examples of indirect taijaio include avoidance of negative emotions (through meditation), promotion of a healthy diet, and mind-body exercises (like yoga).
  • Direct taijaio includes methods of sensory stimulation that help link mother and child peacefully. They include listening to music, talking, touching, and massage.

Mothers are encouraged to tell their developing babies stories, sing to them, or read them a favorite poem. These activities can be combined with gentle touching or massage of the belly.

Adding Some TCM to Your Prenatal Care

You may not want to avoid watermelon or a birthday party, but there is certainly timeless wisdom in TCM and taijaio. Many of these basics are already an important component of Western prenatal care and education. These include:

  • Reducing stress
  • Getting plenty of sleep
  • Eating healthy foods
  • Avoiding harmful substances
  • Avoiding harmful emotions

One lesson we could learn is to include a little more mind-body practice and mindfulness into our prenatal care. Mindfulness is the practice of staying focused in the present moment. In mindfulness meditation, you learn to let go of past and future thoughts. You learn how to let your mind be still. According to TCM, an unquiet mind is both the cause and the result of disharmony.

A 2017 study published in the journal BCM Pregnancy and Childbirth compared a group of women who went through the usual childbirth classes to a group that also took a course in mindfulness meditation. The group who had mindfulness training had less anxiety, less pain during childbirth, and less postpartum depression.

You may want to start a mind-body practice to promote harmony and balance in your pregnancy. These practices include a meditation or a mindfulness exercise practice like yoga, tai chi, or qigong. When you are in harmony with the universe, your baby will be getting your best Qi. That has to be a good thing, and don’t forget to sing.

Christopher Iliades
Dr. Chris Iliades is a medical doctor with 20 years of experience in clinical medicine and clinical research. Chris has been a full time medical writer and journalist since 2004. His byline appears in over 1,000 articles online including EverydayHealth, The Clinical Advisor, and Healthgrades. He has also written for print media including Cruising World Magazine, MD News, and The Johns Hopkins Children's Center Magazine. Chris lives with his wife and close to his three children and four grandchildren in the Boston area.

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