Acupuncture in Pregnancy
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a healing art that originated in China thousands of years ago. Traditional Chinese medicine views the body as two opposing forces, yin and yang. When an imbalance occurs between the two, it blocks what Chinese medicine refers to as qi (pronounced CHEE), or the flow of vital energy along internal pathways (known as meridians) in our bodies. During acupuncture, a practitioner inserts hair-thin needles through the skin at points along the meridians to correct imbalances and restore health.
So, does it work? Researchers have found that acupuncture points correspond to deep-seated nerves, so that when the needles are twirled or electrically stimulated (known as electropuncture), the nerves are activated. This, in turn, triggers the release of several brain chemicals, including endorphins, which block pain signals and help to relieve a number of pregnancy symptoms.
Benefits of acupuncture during pregnancy
Any people credit acupuncture for easing a wide range of pregnancy symptoms including heartburn, swelling in the legs, constipation, carpal tunnel syndrome, sciatica and more.
Here are some of the pregnancy symptoms acupuncture can relieve that science has studied:
- Morning sickness: Some studies have shown that traditional acupuncture that targets the wrist can reduce the nausea and vomiting associated with morning sickness, though other studies have found no effect.
- Lower back and pelvic pain: Research published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology reports acupuncture could reduce pain in the lower back along with pelvic pain. And a 2015 Cochrane Review for treating low back/pelvic pain in pregnancy found that acupuncture improved pelvic pain more than usual prenatal care.
- Depression: Depression during pregnancy is common, affecting nearly one in four women — but a targeted type of acupuncture may help. For a 2010 study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, during eight weeks clinically-depressed pregnant women who weren’t previously taking antidepressants received general acupuncture, acupuncture specific for depression, or massage. The severity of depression symptoms decreased most among women who received acupuncture for depression. And 63 percent of the women who received the depression-specific acupuncture responded to the treatment, compared to 44 percent in the general acupuncture and massage groups.
- Headaches: Research has shown that acupuncture can reduce pregnancy-induced headaches; women who received it also used less medication.
- Sleep Problems: Getting to sleep and staying asleep is trickier than ever during pregnancy — but some research has shown that women who receive acupuncture sleep better during pregnancy, too.
Possible risks of acupuncture and acupressure during pregnancy
When done properly by a trained professional, acupuncture during pregnancy is considered safe and has few risks. Most risks are associated with acupuncture in general, such as soreness, redness or infection at the insertion sites, and injury from needles placed too deeply.
The biggest concern during pregnancy is where the acupuncture is performed: There are several acupuncture and acupressure points (like those in the ankle) that are said to induce contractions — which is why they should be avoided until term (at which point, impatient moms might want to give them a try at the hands of a professional).
Acupuncture tips for pregnant women
Interested in acupuncture to relieve pregnancy symptoms? A few rules of the road:
- Check with your doc: If you’re considering acupuncture, talk about it with your practitioner first. Though these therapies are generally considered safe, it’s best to discuss any health conditions, medications or other issues to determine if acupuncture is right for you.
- Choose an acupuncturist wisely: Look for one who’s licensed by his or state and certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). Make sure your therapist has extensive experience dealing with pregnant women. If you need help finding an acupuncturist, try asking your local doula association for recommendations or using the NCCAOM practitioner search page.
- Consider costs: Before you begin the treatment, ask the acupuncturist about the number of treatments you may need and how much each costs. Check with your insurer, too — some cover the cost of acupuncture while some don’t — to determine if you’ll have to pay out of pocket.
- Watch for signs of trouble: Unless you’re specifically hoping to induce labor at term, you shouldn't feel any unusual contractions during or after a session. If you do, or you notice any other concerning symptoms, contact your healthcare provider immediately.