A/Prof Tan Thiam Chye, Dr Tan Kim Teng, Dr Tan Heng Hao and A/Prof John Tee Chee Seng from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at KK Women's and Children's Hospital discuss the use of traditonal chinese medicine during pregnancy.
Using traditional Chinese medicine in pregnancy
Supplements used in Chinese medicine and their safety
Chinese pay special attention to herbs used for pregnant mothers. TCM physicians have formulated many well-known TCM formulations or Chinese prescriptions that are deemed effective to prepare women for the different stages of pregnancy.
In order to understand how these prescriptions work, we need to take a closer look at how Chinese herbs interact with each other. According to the basic principles in TCM, every single herb has its own function or group of functions to keep the internal body environment balanced and in harmony.
During pregnancy, it is important to keep the qi (energy flow) and blood in harmony to ensure a smooth pregnancy.
When a TCM physician puts single herbs or groups of herbs together, he/she produces a prescription. Every TCM herbal prescription is customised for each individual. Therefore, not every formulation is suitable for all. It is prescribed according to each patient's specific set of symptoms. For example, in TCM, if a patient has fever, herbs with cooling properties will be used.
The herbs in the prescription help restore the internal balance and state of the body and also help combat some pregnancy-related symptoms, such as nausea and dizziness. Hence, it is important for anxious mothers to understand the principles behind the herbs before they decide to take them as medicine, nourishment or a tonic, or as practised in old wives' tales. But a word of caution; if herbs are used inappropriately, side effects such as miscarriages, induced abortions or damages to the foetus may occur.
The proper combination of herbs is based on their natural functional properties.
There are several basic ways Chinese herbs can work together. For example, when herbs with similar properties are used, they enhance or boost the healing power within the entire formulation. Likewise, if herbs of different properties are used, the functions of the herbal couplet may suppress or antagonise the whole formulation.
There are basically two groups of herbs which pregnant women are advised to keep away from. Table 26.2 shows a list of herbs which are toxic and uterotonic. These herbs are strictly prohibited for use during pregnancy.
Table 26.3 shows herbs that should be used with great caution and prescribed only by well-experienced TCM physicians. These herbs are not toxic in nature, but they do have undesirable functions and may cause disruptions to the growing foetus.
Click on page 3 to learn more about other supplements used in traditional chinese medicine and their safety