Yes, that is 10 moons (months)! In ancient China, as in Japan today, pregnancy is calculated from the date of last menstruation. This method results in a pregnancy of 10 (lunar) months rather than the 9 we are used to in the West.
The most detailed description of pregnancy in the original classic Acupuncture texts comes from the Mai Jing (“Pulse Classic”). This book considers human health through the prism of the pulse. (The speed, strength, depth, size, regularity and quality of the pulse is assessed and interpreted; one of the fundamental diagnostic methods in Oriental medicine.)
Before we even look at what is said, this makes sense, since pregnancy is fundamentally about the quality and availability, to the foetus, of the mother’s blood (see Part 1 of this Newsletter for more on this).
Moon by Moon
The Mai Jing describes the month by month development of the foetus, based on an understanding of which of the mother’s internal organs are most influential (and drawn upon!) at each stage of pregnancy. This gives us a guide to support both mother and child throughout pregnancy and to understand and safely treat any discomforts the mother may experience as her body adjusts and changes.
The Mai Jing describes the process by referring to the meridians of each organ system:
Month 1: Liver Meridian
The uterus is considered to be essentially part of the “Liver-complex” in Oriental medicine*. The Liver meridian (which wraps the Liver organ and the uterus) is primarily responsible for containment of good quality blood within these organs. It also gives this “containing” / “suction” / “absorptive” capacity to the embryo, allowing it to attach and embed itself in a healthy uterine lining full of nutritious blood.
In terms of the “five phases” theory (a future newsletter on this topic), the Liver is associated with the concept of generation & creation. This can be thought of as the beginning or initiation of a new cycle (represented by the emergence of new life (during Spring).
Month 2: Gallbladder Meridian
The Gallbladder is associated closely with the tendons, sinews and membranes of the body. During this month we see the emergence of many membranous structures in the foetus which are the divisions and precursors for the development of many of the internal organs. The mother’s Gallbladder meridian nourishes generation and maturation of these membranes in the foetus.
Month 3: Pericardium Meridian
The Pericardium meridian emerges from the middle of the chest (where the physical pericardium wraps around the heart) and carries the warm Ki of the Heart downwards (following the path of the oesophagus) to the stomach to ensure good digestion.
One aspect of this can be considered as simply aiding normal healthy propulsion of food downwards. This normal peristaltic action of downwards along the oesophagus is often upset around week 5 /6 of the pregnancy causing morning sickness. Treatment including this meridian can re-establish normal downward flow, resolving the nausea/ vomiting.
During this month, the heartbeat of the embryo (which has been detectable for a little while already) steadily increases in rate and strength to a peak at around 10/11 weeks. The rate then eases back rapidly and levels off. This phenomenon is often considered as an indication of fetal health and normal presentation is a good indicator of low miscarriage probability. Treatment of the mother’s pericardium meridian at this time can support this process in the foetus.
Month 4: Triple-Heater Meridian
During pregnancy, the mother’s metabolism speeds up creating additional heat. In addition, the foetus is fast becoming a personal internal heater! To cope with this, the mother’s body temperature, in fact, decreases over the course of her pregnancy. This keeps her basal temperature from increasing too much as metabolic rate rises. The Triple-Heater meridian (as its name may suggest) helps to ensure this regulation of temperature, required to keep both mother and foetus safe and healthy.
This meridian is also closely associated with hormone regulation. This month sees the initiation of an important shift in the dominant pregnancy hormones (from HcG to a combination of Progesterone and Estrogen**). From an acupuncture perspective this is overseen by the Triple Heater and can be supported by treatment using this meridian.
With temperature and hormones correctly regulated, the mother generally feels pretty good with most of the initial “wobbles” of the first trimester behind her.
Month 5: Spleen Meridian
Essentially this meridian is all about nutrition. In Acupuncture terminology we could call it “Blood production”. Around this time the foetus starts to increase in weight more rapidly, placing an increasing demand on the mother for raw materials to fund its growth.
The foetus’s own digestive system starts to show signs of ‘quickening’. The foetus starts to make sucking motions with its mouth and Meconium (basically foetus poo) is made in the intestinal tract.
What is called the “Spleen” in Oriental Medicine is often understood to include the pancreas (the glandular organ responsible for insulin and glucagon production). This is important, since treatment of the Spleen meridian (and the Stomach meridian in Month 6) can help to prevent the occurrence of Gestational (Pregnancy) Diabetes***.
Month 6: Stomach Meridian
For our purposes, the “Stomach” and “Spleen” can essentially be seen as a single unit. So once again, the order of the day here is Blood production to support the continuing rapid growth of the foetus. In fact, the size of foetus is now such that it begins to encroach on the natural location of the mother’s stomach. Treatment of her Stomach meridian can support her digestion if affected and make the mother more comfortable.
Another point of interest is that the foetus becomes more active, with increased muscle development. It is usually in this month that “Quickening” occurs (i.e., the mother and others can feel the foetus moving). Muscular movement in the limbs is usually associated with the “Stomach/Spleen-complex” in Oriental medicine and it it likely that the mother’s Stomach meridian, most active at this time, feeds this development in the foetus.
Month 7: Lung Meridian
The foetus is now quite large (15inches, 1.2kg) and high, and as the uterus expands from below, the mother’s diaphragm pushes upward on her lungs. This can cause some breathlessness (and/ or palpitations). The Lung meridian works hard at this time to support the mother in her daily activities.
In the foetus, the respiratory system, while immature, develops to the point where gas exchange is possible.
Month 8: Large Intestine Meridian
Despite its name, the Large Intestine meridian actually has more to do with respiratory function and the sinuses than with the bowels. This meridian is often drafted in by the body (almost like an auxhiliary unit) to support the respiritory system when it is under increased load (e.g., during a cold/ flu, or in the later stages of pregnancy when space for expansion of the mother’s lungs downwards is further decreased).
During these weeks the foetus begins to exhibit the capacity for rhythmic breathing.
Month 9: Kidney Meridian
In Acupuncture theory, the Kidney and its meridian are fundamentally related with the testicles and ovaries. In boys, testicles will be descending from their location near the Kidneys, through the groin on their way into the scrotum. In girls there is a similar, albeit shorter, migration of the ovaries to their more familiar adult position.
For the mother, this is often a time when Lower Back Pain is an issue. This is simply due to increasing size and location of the baby bearing downwards and creating an off-centre load. The Kidney meridian, together with its partner, the Bladder meridian, which nourish and control this area are indicated for treatment.
Month 10: Bladder Meridian
In this last month the baby is heavier and shifts even lower, putting pressure on the mother’s bladder.
In addition, this Meridian controls the Sacro-Iliac joint. This joint (usually strongly knitting the lower spine and the hips together for functional stability) needs to soften and open to allow for the baby to pass through the mother’s pelvis at birth. This process of softening can be supported using AnZan Kyu (”Safe-Birth Moxibustion“) directly onto the Bladder meridian.
In addition, treatment on this meridian is often effective in turning a breach baby and can be used to naturally induce labour.
Treatment after birth will be covered in a future newsletter.
* The “Liver complex” includes the Liver organ, the Liver Meridian, the Uterus and the muscle tissue in the body.
** See http://k2-cgv.com/images/54d3acd7a50ca.jpg
*** Gestational diabetes is formally defined as “any degree of glucose intolerance with onset or first recognition during pregnancy”. A woman is diagnosed with gestational diabetes when glucose intolerance continues beyond 24–28 weeks [Month 6 – Month 7] of gestation.