Pregnancy is a time of growth – growth of a baby, growth of a mother’s belly and growth of a family. And in pregnancy, as in life, sometimes there are growing pains! Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine provide mothers with a safe and natural form of health care that can effectively manage the growth and ‘pains’ of pregnancy.
Acupuncture during Pregnancy
Many physical, emotional, and spiritual changes occur throughout a pregnancy and some of these changes can bring with them uncomfortable symptoms. Since most conventional pharmaceutical medications are not safe for use in pregnancy many women suffer with these symptoms not realizing there are safe and effective alternatives available. Acupuncture can be used safely in pregnancy to relieve negative symptoms and increase overall health and wellbeing.
When applied by a licensed and qualified Naturopathic Doctor, acupuncture is ideally suited to treat the following conditions associated with pregnancy:
- Threatened miscarriage
- Nausea and vomiting (“Morning sickness”)
- Back pain, pelvic pain, sciatica
- Swelling/ edema
- Leg cramps
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Premature labour
- Breech presentation
- Labour induction
Acupuncture in the first trimester
One of the most researched uses of acupuncture during pregnancy is for the treatment of morning sickness and hyperemesis gravidarum1,2 (severe nausea and vomiting lasting beyond the first 12 weeks of pregnancy). Over 1100 women have participated in studies assessing the effectiveness of acupuncture for pregnancy3. A majority have found that acupuncture decreases the symptoms of nausea and vomiting and encourages a healthy appetite during pregnancy.
It is best to start acupuncture treatments at the first signs of morning sickness in pregnancy (often around the six or seven week mark) and to have treatments once a week. More severe cases may need to be seen more often – your Naturopathic Doctor will individualize your treatment plan to meet your needs. You should know after three visits if acupuncture will be an effective treatment for your morning sickness.
For some women the second trimester is a welcome break from the nausea of the first trimester and the aches and pains of the third trimester. But unpleasant symptoms do develop in this time for many pregnant women. Insomnia, anxiety and depression often develop in the second trimester and can greatly impact a woman’s ability to function in her day-to-day life.
Acupuncture is one of the few effective methods of treating insomnia that are safe in pregnancy – a time when most pharmaceutical drugs should be avoided. Insomnia affects a large majority of pregnant women (up to 88% in one study)4 and tends to worsen as pregnancy progresses. Acupuncture has been shown to be more effective than sleep hygiene techniques for insomnia in women in their second and third trimesters of pregnancy in a small study5. Weekly acupuncture visits over an eight week period resulted in a greater than 50% improvement in insomnia symptoms in a majority (75%) of women studied.
According to a 2007 study published in the Acupuncture in Medicine journal, acupuncture is an effective treatment for irritability, anxiety and depression6. Depression affects as many as 1 in 5 pregnant women, and anxiety affects 1 in 7 pregnant women. Acupuncture safely treats these emotional complaints and improves quality of life measures – including sleep quality, mood, relationships, social activities, and joy of living. Acupuncture also offers the mother-to-be a chance to relax and time to enjoy her treatment (yes – many people do find acupuncture to be a relaxing experience!)
Later in the second trimester, heartburn, hemorrhoids and edema (swelling) often develop. A study out of Brazil found that weekly acupuncture treatments decreased symptoms, increased appetite, improved sleep and less use of medications to control heart burn in a majority of pregnant women7. Acupuncture, especially when combined with other safe Naturopathic treatments, can greatly decrease the discomfort of these symptoms and increase the enjoyment of being pregnant.
Acupuncture in the third trimester
As a mother enters her third trimester all thoughts turn towards preparing her body, and her baby, for labour and delivery. Between 32 and 35 weeks acupuncture and moxibustion (holding a warming stick of the herb mugwort – “moxa” – over different acupuncture points on the body) have been shown to be effective in encouraging breech babies to turn into the preferred head-down position. Several large studies have been done that support these traditional acupuncture techniques to turn a baby and reduce the incidence of caesarean section8,9,10. Moxibustion techniques combined with acupuncture are considered safe for both the mother and fetus when applied correctly11.
From 36 weeks to delivery (at approximately 40 weeks), acupuncture can be used to soften the cervix, and prepare the body for labour and delivery12. Once you have reached 40 weeks labour induction acupuncture can be used to help initiate labour and decrease the potential for medical intervention. Women who receive acupuncture in preparation for labour are more likely to enter labour spontaneously (without medical induction), have shorter labours (up to 21 hours faster to delivery) and have fewer caesarean sections13,14,15.
Backache, pelvic pain, sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome are most severe during the final trimester as the baby continues to gain weight and put increased pressure on the mother’s nerves, ligaments and joints16,17,18,19. Acupuncture can bring much-needed relief from these aches and pains and make those final weeks of waiting much easier to endure!
Acupuncture after delivery
In the weeks following delivery a mother’s body is recovering from labour and delivery, as well as bonding with her new baby and growing family. However, some symptoms may persist from her pregnancy or may develop in the weeks after delivery. Acupuncture can help to restore balance in a woman’s body and can effectively treat the following post-natal conditions:
- Postpartum depression and anxiety
- Insufficient milk flow
- Blocked breast ducts/ mastitis
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Urinary incontinence
- Recovery from Caesarean section
The best way to determine if acupuncture is the best treatment for you in your pregnancy is to schedule a consultation with a qualified Naturopathic Doctor. They will be able to answer your questions and offer guidance as to whether acupuncture has been proven to be an effective treatment for your pregnancy symptoms.
The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.
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3. Ezzo J, Streitberger K, Schneider A. Cochrane Systematic Reviews Examine P6 Acupuncture-Point Stimulation for Nausea and Vomiting. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2006; 12(5): 489-495.
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