Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has been evolving for thousands of years and is considered to be one of the world’s oldest forms of medicine. Treatment approaches are based on the idea that five elements—fire, earth, wood, metal and water—are found not only in nature but also in the human body. Disease can be explained by the elements being out of balance. To prevent or treat health problems TCM attempts to correct an imbalance by using herbal medicines and practices such as acupuncture and tai chi. In the human body, the five natural elements are associated with organs and emotions as well as cycles of energy and change. During pregnancy, the child is thought to develop and change in a way that mirrors these natural elements.

The Five Elements In Pregnancy

Each stage of development can be symbolized by one of the elements.

The first to fifth week of pregnancy is represented by wood, an element associated with the liver, but also with spring, the color green, and the emotion of anger.

Fire is the element associated with the eighth to 16th week of pregnancy. This element represents the heart or the spirit that animates a person and all of life. Fire is also associated with the color red, the pulse and the emotion of joy.

Earth is the element associated with the 16th to 24th week and the element linked to the spleen, the color yellow, contemplation, and the muscles.

Metal is the element associated with the 24th to 32nd week, the color white, the emotion of sadness,and the skin.

Water, associated with the kidneys, rules the 32nd to 40th week of gestational development, as well as the color black and the emotion of fear.

If a problem develops during any stage of pregnancy, TCM practices will attempt to restore the natural balance of the element that symbolizes that stage.

Protecting A Child’s Qi

During pregnancy expectant mothers are also encouraged to behave in ways that will protect their child’s qi, the vital energy that flows through bodies and keeps people healthy. To help a child start life with strong qi, TCM advises expectant mothers to reduce stress, spend time in nature, get plenty of sleep and eat a diet rich in vegetables and fruit. Some foods are encouraged during pregnancy, while others are prohibited. On the prohibited list are such foods as watermelon, rabbit, mango, lychee and ice cream. Women are advised to avoid cold and raw foods, caffeine and alcohol.

Traditionally, pregnant women are also discouraged from certain activities perceived to be harmful to an unborn child’s qi. Some of the actions traditionally prohibited during pregnancy include hammering nails into a wall, visiting sick people, attending funerals, seeing scary films, renovating a home or moving.

A Complementary Medicine

In the U.S. TCM practices such as acupuncture and tai chi are generally considered complementary medicine, meaning they are often used alongside, and in conjunction with, traditional Western medicine.

Acupuncture, a technique, which penetrates the skin with thin needles, might be used to treat pregnancy symptoms such as morning sickness or back pain, and treatment plans are developed according to the stages of baby’s development. Acupuncture is considered safe when performed by an experienced practitioner.

TCM also encourages expectant mothers to practice tai chi, a practice that involves slow dance-like body movements with a focus on breathing. Tai Chi has been proven to be an effective and safe way to enhance maternal and fetal health and physical fitness.

TCM practitioners also often prescribe herbal medicines. Because herbal medicines are not standardized, ingredients and dosages can vary widely. Some ingredients may be considered safe to use during pregnancy, while others can potentially have toxic effects or not interact well with other medications. If you are considering taking Chinese herbal medicines, discuss the use of the medicine with your healthcare provider to ensure there are no contraindications.