This week I’m excited to introduce you to Erika Sullivan from Acupuncture Healing Arts. Erika has worked with a handful of TCM mamas, including myself! Acupuncture can be so helpful during every part of pregnancy, from morning sickness, fatigue, and insomnia, to better baby positioning, natural induction, and making labor more comfortable. Getting an acupuncture treatment is such a relaxing experience, even if you don’t have a specific issue you’d like to be addressed, it is great to go and treat yourself for a regular tune-up. Enjoy!
Occupation: Licensed Acupuncturist & Owner of Acupuncture Healing Arts
Son, Kingston 3 years old
Boston Terrier, Bosko
Beulah, North Dakota (west-central part of the state)
Favorite weekday dinner:
Kale and Sweet Basil Sausage Stir-fried with red pepper flakes and seasoned with rice vinegar. Simple, sweet, and spicy. And the rice vinegar gets my qi (pronounced chee) moving!
Yoga or Qi Gong
Favorite downtime activity:
Talking, joking, or snuggling with my three year old
Kate: When did you know you wanted to be a acupuncturist?
Erika: It was always on my agenda, part of my fate, but it wasn’t something I was consciously aware of until I was well into the Graduate program for Acupuncture. I didn’t even tour the Acupuncture School ahead of time (like most of my classmates did) until my first day of class. There was something about the idea, the concept, of becoming an acupuncturist that just fit right. Once I was sitting in my first class I knew I had made a good decision. Once I inserted my first needle I knew I had made the right choice. And the day I opened my practice I was positive I had little control over the decision making process that happened over the past six years, becoming an acupuncturist came naturally to me; it was my fate to become a healer. So I guess I never knew I just followed the leads the universe handed me and hoped for the best! Today I consider myself quite lucky I listened so well.
Kate: Have you always worked with pregnant women, or was there something that drew you to work with them during your schooling or once you started your practice?
Erika: While in school I knew I wanted to work with women’s health. I was fascinated by the diagnostic process Chinese Medicine used to treat and heal women’s disorders. I also became quite passionate about the over medicalization of womens’ healthcare in terms of Western Medicine. It seemed to me that the constant use of birth control, lasers, or complete removal of reproductive organs wasn’t solving the problems and only creating more. Chinese Medicine not only offered relief for most of these ailments but also an answer for so many women struggling with monthly symptoms. Then about half way through my program I helped a friend with her homebirth. During her birth we used acupuncture to progress the labor and experimented with points during contractions to see what helped most for pain relief. After the ‘rush’ of my first birth assist I was sure more ‘birth’ was in the cards for my future and before the program was complete I got my chance to assist more friends during labor using acupuncture.
Kate: Tell me a bit about your practice.
Erika: I am mainly located out of Enlightened Mama at 970 Raymond Ave St Paul. I work there with three doulas, one whom is a breastfeeding counselor, another whom is a psychotherapist, and a photographer. Enlightened Mama, as a center, provides evidence-based education and unbiased support throughout the journey of pregnancy, birth, and parenting. We build confidence to inspire strong, healthy mamas, babies, and families. I can also be found by appointment at 1074 Robert St in West St Paul. The West St Paul clinic location had been my sole clinic for the past seven years until I joined the Enlightened Mama team. And once a month I have a few office days at my clinic in Beulah, North Dakota.
Kate: What is the best part of your job?
Erika: Having the opportunity to help people feel better and also interact with so many in such an effective, one on one kind of way. I feel like, one patient at a time, I’m slowly changing the world with acupuncture. Helping create a happier, healthier community.
Kate: What sorts of acupuncture benefits have you seen in your practice for pregnant and postpartum moms?
Erika: Besides giving moms a peaceful nap and break from their busy lives inside the sanctuary of my treatment room! Acupuncture during pregnancy can help ease aches and pains, relieve nausea, heartburn, constipation, and other digestive dysfunction. It can also encourage better sleeping patterns or even enhance stamina and energy levels within reason (sleep is good during pregnancy; mamas need to recuperate their qi in order to help generate baby’s qi). In preparation for labor, acupuncture can encourage stamina and restore much needed qi to help mama endure labor. It can also help ripen and dilate the cervix and encourage baby to settle into the proper position avoiding things like back labor or prolonged labor/delivery. I have even helped a handful of mama’s turn their breech baby! Helping turn a breech will always be one of my most favorite experiences in the treatment room. I also attend births with the purpose of helping progress a stalled labor and/or ease back labor or regular labor pains. During the postpartum phase acupuncture can be quite helpful as well. I have helped many mamas increase their milk supply due to a variety of reasons for insufficiency. I have helped in cases of postpartum depression and the stimulation of healing in many ways as well. In one case a mother’s uterus had not shrunk back to a reasonable size after six weeks. After three treatments and a few doses of Chinese herbs everything was back to normal size and she was able to avoid intervention with Western Medicine. Lastly acupuncture during the whole duration of a pregnancy can be quite effective in relieving preexisting conditions. Regular care while pregnant can help the body to basically ‘clean the slate’ and and begin to function in an healthier, more balanced way. Many moms with regular acupuncture care during their pregnancies have seen the symptoms of things like allergies, autoimmune disorders, digestive struggles, sleep issues, or emotional problems not only let up during pregnancy but almost completely go away during post-pregnancy life. The sky is really the limit when it comes to Chinese Medicine and pregnancy there are so many treatment options for just about every scenario.
Kate: Are you willing to join mamas in labor if needed? What sorts of scenarios do you think acupuncture is most helpful for in labor?
Erika: As I said before I am more than willing to help mamas during labor. I was lucky enough to have both acupuncture and chiropractic during my homebirth and I am so thankful for both. In fact sometimes I joke if it weren’t for both forms of healthcare there is a chance my three year old may still be in my uterus! Kidding aside, acupuncture is helpful even in a healthy, uneventful labor. It can stimulate the uterus and cervix in turn creating a more effective outcome with each contraction. Which is something every labor, complicated or not, can benefit from. In the cases of complications acupuncture can help a mama enduring a prolonged labor get a bit of a break and recuperate while in the process giving her body time to stimulate more fuel or energy to get the job done. Many moms have reported acupuncture during labor to be a peaceful break. While their birth partners tend to report more of what happens after the treatment, which is labor begins to pick up the pace. Each time I put needles into a laboring mom I find it fascinating how their tone of voice during a contraction will change to something more mellow or as if their vocal cords are reporting their muscles releasing and relaxing.
Kate: Do you also work with babies? How does treating a baby differ from treating and adult?
Erika: Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine is highly effective for babies and children. I treat and/or dose my son with herbs and homeopathics all the time. I gave my three year old his first treatment at six weeks old for gas pains. I do carry a great line of homeopathics safe for babies and children and give all kinds of free advice for caring for children using an Eastern perspective. But I refer acupuncture treatment for them to a trusted colleague of mine, Nancy Bierma, L.Ac.
Kate: Sometimes people are worried about seeing an acupuncturist if they’ve never been before. How would you describe what you do?
Erika: Typically the biggest hurdle I encounter when educating the public about acupuncture is addressing their concern over the needles themselves. In our western culture needles tend to be painful and quite overwhelming. The needles in our MD’s office are hollow and either are putting medicine in or taking blood out. Acupuncture needles are solid and hair thin so the sensation it leaves at the surface of the skin is minimal in comparison to hypodermic needles. There is some stimulation and sensation involved with acupuncture but it tends to be minimal and more of what is felt is deeper into the tissue like a tingling or distending feeling within the muscles. What is felt is immediate upon insertion of the needles and then almost all of my patients report a sense of calm and relaxation washing over them and most sleep during the duration of the treatment. After the treatment most go home feeling more peaceful both physically and mentally. A treatment typically lasts an hour some of which we spend talking and getting know the patients health history. The insertion of needles takes about five to ten minutes and then they are retained in the body for about 20-30 minutes. Every patient who comes to my office can expect to be treated with respect and given a high standard of care. I also find it important to educate all of my patients about not just the treatment process but also Chinese Medicine and how it relates to their lifestyle.
Kate: How would you say that you are unique from other acupuncturists in the community?
Erika: There are so many wonderful acupuncturists in the Twin Cities. I feel my strengths are educating and connecting with my patients. Each patient is important to me and it is one of my priorities to make sure each and every client’s needs are fulfilled while they are in my office. Half of the healing that needs to occur happens in the treatment room and the other half happens while you are living your life. If you are not able to identify what has brought about an imbalance or stagnation of your health there will be an impediment in your healing process. Also not every acupuncturist is also an herbalist so it is important to note if you have an interest in Chinese herbs or homeopathics visiting my clinic will be in line with your needs.
Kate: Do you have any advice you’d like to share with our pregnant readers?
Erika: Acupuncture during pregnancy and the postpartum period can be such a blessing. I have seen it truly change so many lives and situations. Reach out and, if not myself, find an acupuncturist in your area. It will be worth your while!
Kate: Do you have any advice you’d like to share with our post birth, new mom and new dad readers?
Erika: When I first became a mom I encountered some difficulties that were disheartening and I felt frustrated by my situation. I closed myself off and didn’t reach out for help. I wish I hadn’t done that. That new baby phase, as difficult as it can be, is over so quickly. Reach out, ask for help, get the care needed in order to embrace your new lifestyle. And you’ve already made a step in the right direction by reading Kate’s blog, she is a great resource, and truly wonderful birth practitioner!