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Acupuncture During Pregnancy: Safety, Benefits And Risks

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Acupuncture is a non-invasive form of alternative and and complementary therapy, used for physical as well as emotional issues. Even though the benefits of acupuncture are not always backed by scientific evidence, it has been used safely for centuries. In some situations, acupuncture must be used with care and explicit knowledge.

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?

One of acupuncture’s main advantages during pregnancy is arguably the avoidance of unnecessary medication (1). According to a quality assessment review of 105 acupuncture studies on pregnant women held from 1998 to 2013, the risk of adverse reactions were mild, and serious adverse reactions were rare (2). This shows that acupuncture could be useful during pregnancy as well as birth under the guidance of an expert acupuncturist.

It is believed to help relieve early pregnancy symptoms such as nausea, fatigue, and heartburn (3), alleviate 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 lower 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 point was LR3 (located on foot), 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 or bottom-first, instead of headfirst, it is considered a breech position. Acupuncture in the form of moxibustion can help correct the baby’s position by encouraging the baby to turn into head down position. BL67 (urinary bladder 67) is the point for moxibustion 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. Moxibustion is contraindicated with high blood pressure (pregnancy hypertension) and needs to be used with caution due to the fact that the method uses burning hot moxa sticks. 

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 (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.
  • Choosing an uncertified practitioner or not following the safety protocols may also be harmful to the pregnancy.

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.

2. DU 20 (Baihui – Hundred Meetings)

This could be useful in clearing the mind, lifting the spirit, and also preventing possible miscarriage and relieving hemorrhoids. The point, is also known to support your pelvic floor muscles 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.

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.

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, four-finger width down the bottom of the knee cap, one thumb breadth towards the outside of the shin bone.

5. GB41 (Zulinqi – Foot governor of tears)

It is useful for alleviating hip pain, lower leg pain, swollen feet, and cramping 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.

Acupuncture Points To Avoid During Pregnancy

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

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

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. While some advise starting the therapy in the second trimester, others recommend acupuncture from the first trimester when nausea, heartburn, and other first trimester symptoms occur.

The acupuncture therapist may determine whether to offer the treatment every week or every month. You may also begin acupuncture in preparation for 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.

  • Consider your health: Take into consideration your health condition, medications that you are using, and serious issues if any.
  • Choose the acupuncturist carefully: You need to choose a certified acupuncturist. Consider a licensed practitioner, specialized in pregnancy..
  • 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 treatments.
  • Check for any signs of inconvenience: Unless you are having 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 immediately tell your therapist and your doctor or midwife.

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 acupuncture 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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