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Acupuncture During Pregnancy: Safety, Benefits And Risks

Acupuncture During Pregnancy

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IN THIS ARTICLE

Acupuncture is a non-invasive form of alternative therapy, used for physical as well as emotional issues. However, the benefits of acupuncture are not always backed by scientific evidence, which makes it an uncertain choice in some situations.

One such case is pregnancy when your body undergoes physiological, psychological, and metabolic changes. In this MomJunction post, we tell you about the techniques, benefits, safety, and possible risks of acupuncture during pregnancy.

Is Acupuncture Safe During Pregnancy?

Acupuncture during pregnancy is considered to have few adverse effects when applied correctly (1). According to a quality assessment review of 105 acupuncture studies on pregnant women held from 1998 to 2013, the risk of adverse events was mild, and serious adverse events were rare (2). This shows that acupuncture could be useful during pregnancy as well as birth under the guidance of an expert acupuncturist and with the approval of your gynecologist.

It is believed to help relieve early pregnancy symptoms such as nausea, fatigue, and heartburn (3), alleviate the pains, aches, swelling, and constipation and may also help prepare the body for labor in the third trimester.

How Acupuncture Might Help During Pregnancy

The health issues where acupuncture could possibly help are:

  • Nausea and vomiting: According to a study conducted by Adelaide University, Australia, women receiving traditional acupuncture had less nausea and retching compared to women who didn’t (3). Stimulation of the point named pericardium 6 (p6), located below the wrist, helps in relieving nausea and vomiting associated with morning sickness (4).
  • Pelvic and low back pain: Research by the Institute for the Health of Women and Children, Sweden, concluded that acupuncture was effective in relieving pelvic and lower back pain during the second and third trimesters and did not lead to any adverse effects (5). The most frequently used points were LR3 (located on foot) and LI4 (located on the hand), along with local tender points in the girdle and lower back regions (6).
  • Depression: Stanford University conducted a study involving 150 pregnant women, who met the criteria for a major depressive disorder. Of them, 52 women who were given acupuncture treatment for eight weeks experienced a reduction in symptoms when compared to the control group and a third group that received massage therapy (7).
  • During labor: A study suggests that acupuncture treatment at term pregnancy reduces the degree of pain in labor and also reduces the overall delivery time (8).
  • Headaches: According to a study published in the European Journal of Integrative Medicine, acupuncture is known to alleviate the tension-type headache (9).
  • Sleep problems: You could have sleep disturbances during pregnancy. Acupuncture therapy could help you sleep better, and according to a study published in Acupuncture in Medicine, it could also help treat insomnia (10).
  • Baby’s breech position: When your baby is feet-first instead of headfirst, it is considered a breech position. Acupuncture can help correct the baby’s position by turning the head down for delivery. BL67 (urinary bladder 67) is the point for stimulation to correct the fetal position (11).

The method can also have some adverse effects in certain situations when it is not applied correctly or is not used at the right time.

Possible Risks Of Acupuncture During Pregnancy

Acupuncture is known to have a few side effects.

  • There could be soreness or redness at the site of insertion, weakness, sweating, fatigue, and nausea (12).
  • There is a concern that if certain acupuncture points are stimulated before full-term, they could cause preterm labor. However, there is no research supporting the same. You may stick to generally safe acupuncture practices.
  • Choosing an uncertified practitioner or not following the safety protocols may also be harmful to the pregnancy.

To avoid any adverse effects of acupuncture during pregnancy, the therapist should ideally stick to specific pressure or stimulation points.

Acupuncture Points For Pregnancy

Below, we list some acupuncture points that can be stimulated during pregnancy. However, not all theories are backed by scientific research, so take your doctor’s approval before opting for this procedure.

1. P6 point (Neiguan – Inner pass)

The pericardium 6 (P6) point is referred to as seasickness point for its association with nausea. It helps control vomiting, abdomen fullness, and hiccups. It is also useful in treating insomnia, depression, and carpal tunnel syndrome (4).

Location: On the palm side of the wrist, about three-fingers width starting from the wrist crease, it is the point between the two tendons.

P6 point (Neiguan – Inner pass)

2. DU 20 (Baihui – Hundred Meetings)

This could be useful in clearing the mind, lifting the spirit, and also preventing possible miscarriage and hemorrhoids, although there isn’t enough research to back this. The point, however, is known to keep your pelvic floor muscles intact and prevent uterine prolapse (13).

Location: On the midline of the head, 7 cun (Chinese unit- inch) to the posterior hairline. The easiest way to locate it is to rest your thumbs on the highest point of your ears, and let your middle fingers sweep over the head. The point will be right where your middle fingers fall.

DU 20 (Baihui – Hundred Meetings)

3. CV17 (Shanzhong – Chest Center)

This point is believed to improve emotional and mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, fatigue, and nervousness. It is also useful for boosting immunity (14).

Location: On the midline of the chest and in between your nipples, about three to four finger-widths above the base of the breastbone.

CV17 (Shanzhong – Chest Center)

4. ST36 (Zusanli – Leg 3 Miles)

This point is especially helpful for treating nausea and vomiting, gastrointestinal discomfort, fatigue, and stress (15). It could also be helpful in cases of breast pain and abscess.

Location: On the lateral side of the leg, below the knee, four-finger width down the bottom of the knee cap, along the outside of the shin bone.

ST36 (Zusanli - Leg 3 Miles)

5. GB41 (Zulinqi – Foot governor of tears)

It is useful for alleviating hip pain, lower leg pain, swollen feet, and contraction of toes (16). It helps relieve headaches, distention, and breast pain (17).

Location: On the top of the foot, in between 4th and 5th metatarsal bones, the depression lateral to the tendon of extensor digit minimi of the foot.

GB41 (Zulinqi - Foot governor of tears)

Acupuncture Points To Avoid During Pregnancy

Certain acupuncture points are considered vulnerable during pregnancy although there is no consensus about their effects. The points that are to be avoided at least before 37 weeks are known as the forbidden points are:

SP6 (spleen 6), LI4 (large intestine 4), BL60 (bladder 60), BL67 (bladder 67), GB21 (gallbladder 21), LU7 (lung 7), lower abdomen points CV3 – CV7 (conception vessel 3 – 7) and sacral points BL27 – BL34 (bladder 27 – 34) (16).

Acupuncture Points To Avoid During Pregnancy

When Can You Consider Going To Acupuncture During Pregnancy?

You should talk to your healthcare provider to decide about the best time to start acupuncture if they think it is safe. While some prefer to start the therapy in the second trimester, some others recommend from the first trimester when morning sickness, heartburn, and other symptoms are likely there.

The acupuncture therapist may determine whether to offer the treatment every week or every month. You may also begin taking it as you near labor and continue after delivery to support recovery.

Acupuncture Safety Tips For Pregnant Women

If you are planning to go for acupuncture to get relief from some common problems, you may consider the below tips.

  • Discuss with your gynecologist: Talk to your doctor and take into consideration your health condition, medications that you are using, and serious issues if any.
  • Choose the acupuncturist carefully: As the acupuncture points are to be carefully stimulated, you need to choose a certified acupuncturist. Consider a licensed practitioner, with enough experience in dealing with pregnant women.
  • Calculate the cost: Acupuncture therapy is not limited to one session. It might need a series of sessions. So, check with the therapist about the cost and check if there is medical insurance coverage for the procedures.
  • Check for any signs of inconvenience: Unless you are taking acupuncture for labor induction, you should not feel any discomfort or contractions during or after the session. If you notice any unusual changes, you should tell your therapist and your doctor.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does acupuncture hurt?

Acupuncture does not usually hurt. It usually relaxes you, and you might even fall asleep during the session. You may feel some warmth or heaviness around the stimulated points.

Does acupuncture cause miscarriage in early pregnancy?

Specific points that help induce labor are avoided until you reach the full term. The pressure points used for general pregnancy symptoms are not known to cause miscarriage (16).

Can acupuncture prevent miscarriage?

Acupuncture is said to be useful in preventing miscarriage (17) by regulating hormones, reducing contractions in early pregnancy, and helping you relax. (18)

However, further research is necessary to determine the causative factors of miscarriage that acupuncture can help deal with.

Acupuncture might help deal with some of the pregnancy symptoms you experience. Though there is some evidence that supports acupuncture during pregnancy, deeper research could help understand the various ways in which acupuncture can support pregnant women. If you are interested in using acupuncture therapy during pregnancy, and for labor induction, talk to your doctor about it.

Did you get acupuncture during pregnancy? Do share your experience with us in the comment section below.

References:

1. Park J et al.; The safety of acupuncture during pregnancy: a systematic review; Acupunct Med (2014)
2. Park J et al.; The safety of acupuncture during pregnancy: a systematic review; Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE): Quality-assessed Reviews (2014)
3. Acupuncture And Its Effect During And After Pregnancy; Pacific College of Oriental Medicine
4. Caroline Smith et al.; Acupuncture To Treat Nausea and Vomiting in Early Pregnancy: A Randomized Controlled Trial; Birth Issues in Perinatal Care (2002)
5. Acupressure Point P6; Explore Integrative Medicine
6. Helen Elden et al.; Treatments of pelvic girdle pain in pregnant women: adverse effects of standard treatment, acupuncture and stabilising exercises on the pregnancy, mother, delivery and the fetus/neonate; BMC Complement Altern Med (2008)
7. Nina Kvorning Ternov et al.; Acupuncture for Lower Back and Pelvic Pain in Late Pregnancy: A Retrospective Report on 167 Consecutive Cases; Pain Medicine, Volume 2, Issue 3; AAPM (2008)
8. Manber R et al.; Acupuncture for depression during pregnancy: a randomized controlled trial; Obstet Gynecol (2010)
9. Skilnand E et al.; Acupuncture in the management of pain in labor; Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand (2002)
10. J.B. Guerreiro daSilva et al.; Acupuncture for tension-type headache in pregnancy: A prospective, randomized, controlled study; European Journal of Integrative Medicine, Volume 4, Issue 4; ScienceDirect (2012)
11. da Silva JB et al.; Acupuncture for insomnia in pregnancy–a prospective, quasi-randomised, controlled study; Acupunct Med (2005)
12. Habek D et al.; Acupuncture conversion of fetal breech presentation; Fetal Diagn Ther (2003)
13. Acupuncture; NHS
14. A Ouyang, L Xu; Holistic Acupuncture approach to idiopathic refractory nausea, abdominal pain and bloating; World Journal of Gastroenterology
15. J B Guerreiro da Silva; Acupuncture in pregnancy; Acupuncture in Medicine
16. David John Carr; The safety of obstetric acupuncture: forbidden points revisited; Acupunct Med (2015)
17. Deadman, Al-Khafaji, and Baker; Some Acupuncture Points Which Treat Headache; Journal Of Chinese Medicine
18. Sezgin, Becel, and Akcay; Acupuncture Treatment of a Metatarsus Proximal End Fracture; Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies
19. Debra Betts et al.; Acupuncture as a therapeutic treatment option for threatened miscarriage; BMC Complement Altern Med (2012)

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Rebecca Malachi

She is a Biotechnologist with a proficiency in areas of genetics, immunology, microbiology, bio-engineering, chemical engineering, medicine, pharmaceuticals to name a few. Her expertise in these fields has greatly assisted her in writing medical and life science articles. With 8+ years of work experience in writing for health and wellness, she is now a full-time contributor for Momjunction.com. She is passionate about giving research-based information to readers in need. Apart from writing, she is a foodie, loves travel, fond of gospel music and enjoys observing nature in silence. Know more about her at: linkedin.com/in/kothapalli-rebecca-35881628
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