Photograph by Melinda Elston

Erin Mahon plans to have a home birth so she can more freely draw upon alternative therapies to aid her delivery. While hospitals are warming to certain alternative therapies, they are too quick to use drugs and other interventions, she says.

Erin Mahon relies on alternative medicines now more than ever because she is seven months pregnant and plans to give birth at home. The 27-year-old prepares for her home birth by taking several vitamins, drinking different types of teas and receiving acupuncture.

Mahon said she hates hospitals because they make her uncomfortable. She is doing as much as she can to be ready when the time comes.

"No one is going to offer me an epidural in my living room," she said, referring to a pain relief injection often given in the spine during labor. "Any little thing that I do helps me feel more prepared and more comfortable with [giving birth at home]."

Mahon is only one of a nationwide trend to alternative medicines for common medical purposes like pregnancy. Some hospitals are incorporating these services into their facilities and treatments.

Citing National Institute of Health data, the Columbus Dispatch on Feb. 27 reported that 40 percent of Americans used alternative medicine in 2007, according to an article titled Practitioners of traditional medicine more open to 'complementary' treatments.

"Acupuncture, nasal rinses, nutritional supplements and other approaches that many doctors formerly frowned upon - or at least were skeptical of - are becoming commonplace," the article said.


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This story is part of a series called Student Reports that features the work of students at the IU School of Journalism.


Reasons for this might include cost or the fact that the number of uninsured Americans is increasing, according to an article in USA Today on Sept.17, 2010, "Number of uninsured Americans rises to 50.7 million."

The article said, "More than 50 million people were uninsured last year, almost one in six U.S. residents."

Alternative medicines usually cost less than a traditional doctor visits do. According to an article "Alternative medicine as cost saver" on MarketWatch.com on Jan. 6, 2005, Americans use alternative medicines due to the cost benefits they provide.

"Last year, about 6 million Americans turned to complementary and alternative medicine, known as CAM, to treat conditions such as chronic pain and depression because conventional medicine was too pricey," the article said.

Western medicine may over medicate women during labor

Mahon wishes that hospitals would use more natural remedies and work more on preventative health care. It is one of the main reasons she does not want to have her child in a hospital.
"The administration has to get in the know. Physicians have to get behind it." - Sarah Blakenbaker, RN
"They treat each [pregnancy] as a medical condition," she said, "that it's some kind of medical problem that needs to be fixed."

According to a March 26, 2007, MSNBC article "Why so many women have C-sections," it is believed that more than 30 percent of all U.S. births are Cesarean deliveries.

Mahon feels that this percentage is unnecessary.

She explained how almost all women in labor are given drugs to speed up the birthing process. However, this leads to harder contractions. Since those are abnormal, women want pain medication, which slows down the birthing process. Then, they are given more of the drugs, and the cycle repeats.

Bloomington Hospital sounds good about letting the mothers make their own decisions about their birthing experiences, Mahon said. "But I think the medical community in general is really weirded out if you go in and you refuse to get any kind of medication."

Hospitals incorporate alternative medicines into their facilities

However, this type of overmedicating might be changing in all areas of medical practice as hospitals begin to offer more natural, complimentary and alternative medicines.

According to the article, "Hospitals Offer Alternative Treatments," on NPR's health blog posted Nov. 15, 2011, 42 percent of hospitals now offer alternative treatments, such as massage, acupuncture and Reiki.

"Patient demand is the top reason hospitals offer complementary and alternative therapies," said the article.
"Acupuncture, nasal rinses, nutritional supplements and other approaches that many doctors formerly frowned upon - or at least were skeptical of - are becoming commonplace." - Columbus Dispatch, Feb. 27
Sarah Blakenbaker, a Registered Nurse at IU Health in Bloomington, is pushing for this kind of change. Besides being an RN, Blakenbaker is also a Reiki practitioner and makes herbal medicines.

Reiki is a Japanese energy healing practice. Practitioners perform it by putting their hands over a patient, transmitting energy, which promotes health, healing and wellness.

"In the hospital setting, I offer massage and Reiki to patients," Blakenbaker said.

She started making and using herbal medicines 14 years ago because she didn't have health insurance for a mouth infection.

Blakenbaker can't prescribe herbal remedies to her patients because she is not a doctor. She does occasionally share some of her herbal insights with fellow nurses.

Blakenbaker is pushing for permission to offer a Reiki class to interested nurses at IU Health.

"The administration has to get in the know," she said. "Physicians have to get behind it."

Zach Henry, a local massage therapist at Bloomington Body Works, agrees with Blakenbaker.

"In regards to medical massage in hospitals, many institutes already have massage services in place," he said. "The application and benefits of massage are wide and varied."

Mahon is not sure she will continue receiving acupuncture once her child is born because the cost is not covered by her insurance, but she will continue taking herbal supplements for her personal health.

"I've only been to one [acupuncture appointment] so far," she said. "After that I felt really peaceful. I know one session wasn't enough to fix any kind of achiness or really to fix a problem. But I remember leaving and feeling really peaceful and leaving with a smile on face. It was good for my energy, for sure."

Melinda Elston can be reached at meelston@indiana.edu.