I have no opposition to medications and medical interventions when necessary, but I also believe that we need to treat the cause not just the symptoms. Sometimes we are so focused on managing symptoms that we forget to look for underlying cause. This applies to perinatal mental health as well. Sometimes our hormones are out of balance and we need pharmaceutical help and sometimes we need dietary changes or more simply things to ease the transition into motherhood, like solid peer support. Make no mistake, I whole heartedly believe that medication saves lives. I also believe that often women are improperly diagnosed and treated thus exacerbating symptoms of distress.
Occasionally a mom reaches out to me for what she thinks maybe postpartum depression. Sometimes, through care and professional evaluation, moms find that while they are definitely overwhelmed with new motherhood, they are not experiencing maternal mental illness. Sometimes. Fortunately, here in Tampa Bay we really do have this amazing wealth of resources for families. Not only do we have a large natural birth and parenting community, we have a large number of alternative and complimentary therapy practitioners (such as massage therapist, hypnotherapist and acupuncturist), several support groups, educational programs and more.
In my own quest to understand my struggles with maternal mental illness I studied every treatment possibility I could. Read many case studies, consulted with professionals and eventually came to a treatment plan that was suitable for me. I found a combination of prayer, medication, cognitive behavior therapy and alternative therapies worked for me, after obtaining an accurate diagnosis.
Now I know every woman is different however if you are considering alternatives to medication, I want you to know what is out there. I recently chatted with Dr. De’Nicea Hilton, owner of Hilton Holistic Health and founder of Sisters of Flow. Doctor D, as she is sometimes called, is a Doctor of Oriental Medicine and Acupuncture Physician working with families in Tampa Bay. With years of study and national certification, Dr. D specializes in encouraging self-healing and wellness.
If you’re not familiar with acupuncture, it is an art of inserting (or non-insertion for some styles) sterile, one-time use needles in specific points that are all over the body. By stimulating these points, it’s believed we are calling these points to activate with a greater purpose of helping the body to harmonize and thus promote self-healing. Pretty neat huh.
I asked how acupuncture treats mental and emotional issues, as in what is the theory behind acupuncture for health and mental health? Here’s how Dr. D explained it to me;
“While the physical act of performing acupuncture is working with the body, there is an intimate connection with the mind as well. Each organ system houses a part of our mental/emotional state. You hear that our physical health is a representation of the mind or vice versa. I see it all the time. Thought patterns and physical complaints may seem completely unrelated but they are very much so related due to the understanding/nature of the organ systems. For example, someone may describe having constipation and when asked about having difficulty "letting things go" in life, they often agree that they do. So, you can see it is more in understanding the organ systems and the relationships between each other. Body, mind and spirit are tightly connected. Often times, the physical symptom is a way your body is communicating. We hold emotions in various parts of our bodies. It is part therapeutic talk and acupuncture and herbs are a tool to further the therapeutic process by balancing and harmonizing the body, mind and spirit.”
In preparing for this post, I went searching for information on acupuncture and its use in the field of maternal mental health. I didn’t find much, in fact, one study, mentioned at Postpartum Progress was the most detailed I could find. I shared it with Dr. D and asked here to help me understand (in plain mama English) and she was glad to expand on it. Take a break, go read it and come back to us.
Back again? Here’s our pal Dr. D’s reply;
“The author of the post did a great job in presenting both sides of the findings of the study. It is very clear that the opposing author does not believe in or consider Qi to be something that exists. However, it does exist and since 2010 when that article was written, more and more scans and studies have come out. Cardiologists are recommending Qi Gong and Tai Chi for patients for its benefits in reducing blood pressure. Other physicians are recommending it for pain relief and even helping to manage tremors in patients with Parkinson’s disease.
As for the methodology of the study, it can be difficult to say you are going to treat a blanket diagnosis as depression without going through the pool of potential study participants and setting the inclusion criteria to maybe only represent a specific TCM diagnosis. I appreciate the thought in the performing acupuncturists not knowing the diagnosis beforehand. The notion of "sham acupuncture" is interesting to me because although the needle may not be inserted, the points can still be stimulated. Non-insertion technique is commonly used in Japanese acupuncture. Commonly you will hear about Toyohari and Shonishin.
It's necessary to point out that TCM is one of many acupuncture theories and practices. For some patients, TCM acupuncture may not be as effective as Japanese, Six Stage, Five Element or Korean. This list is not exhaustive by any means. I mention this because practitioners practice differently. With that, you may ask if there is a certain style preference she or he uses.
Overall, I would consider what TCM diagnosis was made for each of the participants and their histories. Acupuncture itself can help for sure, and I believe herbs and nutrition work harmoniously. Lifestyle is another consideration. It is not going to take just one thing to correct something. It takes a holistic approach.”
So this then lead me to asking how Hilton Holistic Health approaches maternal mental health, most importantly, how Dr. D works with Moms.
“I love the way this question is asked - "work with moms." That's exactly how I think of it. I meet moms where they are at. By speaking with her, we can really see where she is, including her present symptoms and hearing about her life before pregnancy and her birth story. Details of the birth gives me an idea of what the state of her body was before she went into the pregnancy and the birth. There is some vital information to be found there. For example, she may have had a history of very light menstrual cycles spread apart and then had a very long labor which may have ended up in a C-section. This tells me she had some underlying deficiencies and in the present state, her body has just been really taxed and needs some vital support. It just so happens that she is manifesting it in the way she is now: be it depression, anxiety, poor memory, fatigue or even low milk supply. This is a very common diagnosis of Blood and Qi Deficiency (which could be of different organs based on mom) due to the major loss of those substances during birth.
What helps most often after an Eastern medicine diagnosis has been found, is to replenish the system. This happens via nutrition, herbs and acupuncture. I use a Micronutrient test to see where she may be most deficient and where she's not absorbing these important pieces of our proper bodily function. My preference is using whole food supplements because the body is more readily available to absorb them. Plus, when you are absorbing and processing properly, the herbs are able to go in and do their job as channel/organ system balancing. Acupuncture seals the deal by activating the points to further balance the disharmonies.”
I really love the notion of professionals who encage their patients, really speak with them not at them. By helping moms explore what’s going on with their bodies, Dr. D is planting seeds of healing. Sometimes just having someone who is caring and nonjudgmental to listen can make a world of difference.
I’m also really excited to share another special project from Dr. D called Sisters of Flow. Sisters of Flow is currently a podcast where Dr. D and guest go with the flow, about anything and everything menstrual cycles.
“ I started it out of my personal experience with painful periods which sometimes made me really unproductive because I would have to sit with a space heater on the floor at work or would miss class because I would just have to stay at home in bed with heating pad. While in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine School, I learned about treating this and it worked! All I used was acupuncture and herbs. Later I incorporated vaginal steaming as a regular regimen to make sure I'm shedding all that I need to shed each month. As I began talking with other women, I learned they did not know that the cycle is not supposed to be painful or even there were other options to use besides birth control pills. Thus, Sisters of Flow was born to provide a platform to educate those who menstruate about what their options are, raise awareness about disparities in regards to women's health and exploring different cultures' perception about menstruation.”
“I would LOVE for moms to know the cycle you once knew may change. This may be for the better or for the worse. If there is anything to find comforting, it is that in this new phase of your life, you now know there is a lot of support. If it is for the worse, heed that as a sign that you may need some additional support. For some, it may be cramping or back pain and it can stay that way or get better. For some, there is definitely a connection. The timing of the menstrual pain along with the flow, color, odor and duration are taken into consideration. Though not true for everyone, some with cycles that may have been closer together, painful before and first days with heavy dark bleeding may experience more anxiety. On the other hand, those with prolonged pain throughout the cycle and even afterwards with a lighter color and longer time in between may experience more depression. In these instances, the menstrual pain and information about the cycle in general adds great information in painting the picture of her overall being.”
I’m also a little excited, I recently got to be a guest and “go with the flow” talking about cycle changes after multiple births and various types of birth. We’ll be sure to let you know when it airs, warning its probably pretty TMI for some but you know how open I am. I also think menses is another topic, like mental illness that gets shushed too often. If you are interested in learning more about Oriental Medicine, acupuncture and more, please contact Dr. De'Nicea Hilton, Doctor of Oriental Medicine, and Acupuncture Physician. I warn you though, you may find yourself laughing with her and chatting so much you forget the needles.
Dr. De'Nicea Hilton, DOM, AP
Doctor of Oriental Medicine, Acupuncture Physician
Hilton Holistic Health - www.hiltonholistichealth.com
Sisters of Flow - www.sistersofflow.com
Text or call: 727-300-6722
Each walk is different, but we walk together, and that makes all the