Acupuncture During Pregnancy
Pregnancy… it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. As a first-time mom who had been trying to get pregnant for a couple of years, I was thrilled to be pregnant. Then, the nausea kicked in and didn’t let up until I was around 21 weeks.
That’s almost four months of daily nausea! I had already been getting acupuncture to help me get pregnant, and I continued seeing my acupuncturist during my pregnancy to help with nausea, aches, and pains, and to help prepare my body for labor.
Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years to alleviate all kinds of symptoms. Some of our earliest gynecological texts discuss the use of acupuncture during pregnancy, so we know that there is a very long history of using acupuncture to alleviate symptoms during pregnancy. There is also some scientific research on acupuncture during pregnancy and it is considered safe.
A 2019 study that included more than 20,000 women in Korea showed that acupuncture did not increase the risks of preterm birth or stillbirth. A 2014 study concluded that “Acupuncture during pregnancy appears to be associated with few adverse events when correctly applied.” In this case, adverse events were things like pain at a needling site or minor bruising.
What kind of symptoms can be helped by acupuncture?
Nausea and vomiting
‘Morning sickness’ is very common in the first trimester and often worse with multiples. Many people first try acupuncture because of nausea during pregnancy. In 2021, a review of studies was completed, looking at 16 studies, involving more than 1,000 pregnant women with severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. It suggested that acupuncture is significantly more effective than standard treatments. For mild or moderate nausea and vomiting, acupuncture is well worth trying.
Low back pain
Another very common symptom, especially in the third trimester, low back pain can be alleviated with acupuncture and other modalities (bodywork, cupping, etc.). Acupuncture was found to be safe and effective for low back pain in a 2021 study. A study done in 2004 on 73 women in late pregnancy found that acupuncture relieved pelvic and low back pain without adverse effects.
While there isn’t a lot of research on acupuncture for pelvic pain in pregnancy, I have found that acupuncture can be tremendously helpful for my pregnant patients with pubic symphysis pain and other pelvic pain. The pubic symphysis is at the front of the pelvis, where the pelvic bones meet. When the ligaments become lax they aren’t able to hold the pelvis in alignment anymore, causing significant pain.
There is a decent amount of research showing that acupuncture and moxibustion can provide the conditions under which a baby can turn from breech (‘feet down’) to cephalic (‘head-down’) position. It is worth trying acupuncture and moxibustion prior to having an external cephalic version (manually turning the baby) as long as the ultrasound shows that there is no contraindication for the baby turning.
Headaches and migraines
During pregnancy, there are few medications available to alleviate pain. This is one area that acupuncture excels. There are different types of headaches from a Chinese medicine perspective, depending on where the pain is in the head and the quality of the pain. A proficient acupuncturist will use different points for different types of headaches.
Everybody tells you to ‘get your sleep now, before the baby comes’ but that’s easier said than done. Acupuncture can help you get better quality sleep by promoting the parasympathetic nervous system’s ‘rest and digest’ functions.
Stress and anxiety
Especially during the first pregnancy when everything is new, anxiety and stress are common complaints during pregnancy. Acupuncture is well known for reducing stress and anxiety.
The increase in progesterone causes the smooth muscle in the intestines to relax, which means food moves more slowly through the digestive system. The iron in prenatal vitamins might be contributing to constipation, too. Whatever the cause, acupuncture can help the bowels move at a more normal rate.
Some people have heartburn in the last trimester as the internal organs are being displaced by the uterus, others have heartburn their entire pregnancy. The same points that help relieve constipation can help heartburn because food won’t be sitting in the stomach as long.
Toward the end of pregnancy, some people develop swollen ankles from all the extra fluid in the body and pressure from the growing uterus. Compression socks really help, but there are also some acupuncture points that can help move those fluids back into circulation.
Similar to ankle swelling, this common symptom happens because all the extra fluids in the body cause the blood vessels to swell, including in the sinuses. This creates the conditions for more sinus congestion and post-nasal drip. Acupuncture can be really helpful in relieving sinus congestion.
As I mentioned earlier, I saw my acupuncturist to help me prepare for labor. There are certain acupuncture points that are thought to help the cervix soften and dilate. See our article here for more details: https://pdxacustudio.com/what-you-need-to-know-before-using-acupuncture-to-induce-labor/
Regular acupuncture during pregnancy can alleviate most symptoms that arise and might even avoid some of these symptoms before they happen. Acupuncture is a wonderful and safe complement to prenatal care.
Contact us at Portland Acupuncture Studio to be part of your team before, during, and after your pregnancy.
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Moon H-Y et al. 2019. Safety of acupuncture during pregnancy: a retrospective cohort study in Korea. British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 79-86. https://obgyn.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1471-0528.15925 [Accessed September 2022]
Lu H et al. 2021. Effectiveness of Acupuncture in the Treatment of Hyperemesis Gravidarum: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine Volume 2021 Article ID 2731446. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2021/2731446/#methods [Accessed September 2022]
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