Anxiety and the Bao Mai: The importance of keeping an open heart through your fertility journey | Anna McMullen B.HSc CM

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As you may know, acupuncture works by manipulating the body’s energy via acupuncture points, which are commonly located on Meridians or channels. These channels weave a complex system, connecting the internal with the external within the body and allowing for the movement of energy.

One of the less commonly known channels is called the Bao Mai, the Uterus Vessel. The Bao Mai is the channel which connects the uterus with the heart. The heart is particularly susceptible to emotional stress such as anxiety, which in turn can affect the health and receptivity of the uterus. In Chinese medicine, we believe it is important the Bao Mai is kept open, with energy able to freely flow between the heart and the uterus.

I love the idea of the Bao Mai, particularly when working to support fertility. It helps to explain the beautiful connection mothers have with their children in the womb, and it also helps us understand why emotional stress and anxiety can have such a huge impact on fertility. Today, we will discuss how anxiety impacts fertility and some ways you can manage it as well as how to keep your Bao Mai open and flowing freely.

Anxiety is becoming more and more commonplace with approximately 1 in 7 Australians suffering from an anxiety disorder at some point. One of the most common symptom I see in the clinic in fertility patients is anxiety.

It can manifest in many ways with varying symptoms, depending on what the underlying pattern of disharmony is. Some common physical symptoms include:

Sweating | Feelings of heat or hot flushes | Dry mouth | Racing heart rate, heart palpitations or an awareness of the heart beat | Trembling or shakiness | Feeling dizzy or lightheaded | Gut disturbances such as nausea or diarrhoea | Difficulty concentrating | Racing thoughts | Difficulty switching off | Feeling of impending doom | Insomnia or difficulty sleeping

From a western point of view, an anxiety attack or a persistent state of anxiety releases stress hormones which cascade through your body wreaking havoc. They induce the fight or flight response, a hormonal response elegantly designed to keep our ancient predecessors safe from threats in the wild. A person operating in this state may be well equipped to make a fast escape or enter in to a confrontation, however it is a less than optimal state to live in when you are trying to conceive.

When the body is in this anxious state there are many physiological reactions which can have adverse effects on your ability to conceive. The endocrine system is stimulated and hormones are released, blood vessels are constricted and blood moves away from the torso to the limbs. This means the pelvic organs, the uterus and ovaries have a reduced blood supply. We see this as being detrimental to fertility. Poor blood supply can lead to thin endometrium, which in turn can impact the interplay of hormones needed for effective ovulation, menstruation, conception and carrying to term.

Whether we are working to enhance natural fertility or to support assisted reproductive techniques such as IVF, the focus in Chinese medicine is on improving blood flow to the pelvic organs. This promotes the growth of endometrial tissue, optimises ovulation, regulates menstruation and helps support early stage pregnancy. Additionally, being in this anxious state can disrupt the channel system and prevent the normal flow of energy in the body.

The heart in Chinese medicine is responsible for of the functions seen in Western medicine such as pumping the blood. In Chinese medicine we also see the heart as having a connection with the emotions, and is particularly affected by anxiety. When the emotions are settled and the body is functioning well there is a flow of energy from the heart to the uterus via the Bao Mai. When anxiety appears, this disrupts and can block the flow of energy in this channel.

Trying for a baby can be stressful. One of the best things you can do to look after yourself during this time is to reduce your anxiety. This will encourage the free flow of energy from the heart to the Bao Mai. There are many safe and natural ways you can do this.

Acupuncture is safe and non-invasive and can help ease anxiety by gently bringing the body back in to balance, whilst also calming and settling the mind. Patients notice an almost instant sense of relaxation during and following their treatments.

Chinese Herbal medicine helps to support acupuncture treatments and can be used stand alone for those who prefer not to have acupuncture. It is a safe and natural way to restore balance, and is safe to use during pregnancy under the guidance of a qualified practitioner.

Your practitioner can also help you identify any dietary and lifestyle factors that may be contributing to your anxiety, and provide alternative suggestions which will support your recovery.

Meditation and mindfulness practices are brilliant tools that can be used by anyone, and are excellent for helping to manage anxiety symptoms.

Getting regular exercise has been shown to have positive impacts on anxiety. It is important to choose exercise that is right for your body and is seasonally appropriate. Talk to your practitioner for some personalised suggestions.

One of the best ways to alleviate anxiety and to open the Bao Mai is to regularly partake in activities which bring you joy and make you happy. A very simple way of doing this is through laughter. Having a good belly laugh instantly calms the mind and settles the heart, and re-establishes the Bao Mai. So catch up with that good friend who always makes you laugh, watch one of your favourite funny movies or even just hop on YouTube and check out some comedians. It doesn’t need to be fancy, it just needs to get you giggling.

Anxiety and the Bao Mai: The importance of keeping an open heart through your fertility journey | Anna McMullen B.HSc CM 1

Anna McMullen is a registered acupuncturist at Mornington Chinese Medicine, specialising in women’s health, fertility & anxiety treatment.

Anxiety can be beaten, although sometimes it can take time and a lot of hard work. When you are trying for a baby, often it can feel like so much of the journey is outside of your control. But getting on top of your anxiety, and feeling calm and settled can make the journey seem a whole lot easier.