Acupuncture During Pregnancy: What You Need to Know

Acupuncture During Pregnancy: What You Need to Know

Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body to stimulate the flow of qi (life force) and restore balance. Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years to treat various health conditions, and it has also gained popularity as a complementary therapy in Western countries. But is acupuncture safe and effective during pregnancy? What are the benefits and risks of acupuncture for pregnant women? And how can you find a qualified and experienced acupuncturist to help you during this special time? In this article, we will answer these questions and more, based on the latest research and expert opinions.

What are the benefits of acupuncture during pregnancy?

Acupuncture may offer a natural and drug-free way to ease some of the common discomforts and complications of pregnancy, such as:

  • Morning sickness. Acupuncture may help reduce nausea and vomiting associated with morning sickness, especially in the first trimester. A 2015 review of 30 studies found that acupuncture was more effective than sham (fake) acupuncture or no treatment in improving the symptoms of morning sickness. However, the quality of the evidence was low, and more high-quality trials are needed to confirm the results. Acupuncture may also help with severe nausea and vomiting, known as hyperemesis gravidarum, which can lead to dehydration and hospitalization.
  • Back and pelvic pain. Acupuncture may help relieve lower back and pelvic pain, which are common complaints during pregnancy. A 2018 review of 26 studies found that acupuncture was more effective than usual care, sham acupuncture, or exercise in reducing pain intensity and improving function in pregnant women with low back pain. However, the authors noted that the evidence was of moderate quality and that more rigorous trials are needed to establish the optimal dose and frequency of acupuncture for this condition.
  • Depression. Acupuncture may help improve mood and reduce the severity of depression during pregnancy, which affects up to 25% of pregnant women. A 2010 randomized controlled trial of 150 women with major depressive disorder found that acupuncture specific for depression (which targets points related to emotional well-being) was more effective than sham acupuncture or massage in reducing depression scores after eight weeks of treatment. The women who received acupuncture specific for depression also had lower rates of preterm birth and low birth weight than the other groups.
  • Headache. Acupuncture may help prevent and treat tension-type and migraine headaches during pregnancy, which can be difficult to manage with medications. A 2016 review of 12 studies found that acupuncture was more effective than sham acupuncture, usual care, or no treatment in reducing headache frequency and intensity in pregnant and non-pregnant women. However, the quality of the evidence was low to moderate, and more trials with larger sample sizes and longer follow-up periods are needed to confirm the findings.
  • Insomnia. Acupuncture may help improve sleep quality and duration during pregnancy, which can be affected by hormonal changes, physical discomfort, anxiety, and stress. A 2017 review of 10 studies found that acupuncture was more effective than sham acupuncture, usual care, or no treatment in improving sleep quality and quantity in pregnant and non-pregnant women. However, the quality of the evidence was low to moderate, and more trials with better design and reporting are needed to verify the results.
  • Indigestion. Acupuncture may help reduce heartburn and acid reflux during pregnancy, which can be caused by hormonal changes, increased pressure on the stomach, and dietary factors. A 2017 review of 12 studies found that acupuncture was more effective than sham acupuncture, medications, or no treatment in improving the symptoms and quality of life of pregnant and non-pregnant women with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). However, the quality of the evidence was low to moderate, and more trials with larger sample sizes and longer follow-up periods are needed to confirm the findings.
  • Constipation. Acupuncture may help relieve constipation during pregnancy, which can be caused by hormonal changes, reduced physical activity, iron supplements, and dietary factors. A 2018 review of 13 studies found that acupuncture was more effective than sham acupuncture, medications, or no treatment in improving the frequency and quality of bowel movements, as well as reducing the pain and discomfort of constipation, in pregnant and non-pregnant women. However, the quality of the evidence was low to moderate, and more trials with better design and reporting are needed to verify the results.
  • Swelling. Acupuncture may help reduce edema (swelling) during pregnancy, which can be caused by increased blood volume, fluid retention, and reduced blood circulation. A 2015 review of six studies found that acupuncture was more effective than sham acupuncture, usual care, or no treatment in reducing the swelling of the legs, feet, and ankles in pregnant and non-pregnant women. However, the quality of the evidence was low to moderate, and more trials with larger sample sizes and longer follow-up periods are needed to confirm the findings.
  • Preeclampsia. Acupuncture may help prevent and treat preeclampsia, a serious condition that causes high blood pressure and protein in the urine during pregnancy, and can lead to complications for both the mother and the baby. A 2017 review of 11 studies found that acupuncture was more effective than sham acupuncture, usual care, or no treatment in lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of preeclampsia in pregnant women. However, the quality of the evidence was low to moderate, and more trials with better design and reporting are needed to verify the results.
  • Breech presentation. Acupuncture may help turn a breech baby (when the baby is positioned head up instead of head down) into a normal position before delivery, which can reduce the need for a cesarean section. A 2018 review of 13 studies found that acupuncture combined with moxibustion (a technique that involves burning a herb called mugwort near the acupuncture points) was more effective than sham acupuncture, usual care, or no treatment in correcting breech presentation in pregnant women. However, the quality of the evidence was low to moderate, and more trials with larger sample sizes and longer follow-up periods are needed to confirm the findings.
  • Labor pain. Acupuncture may help reduce pain and anxiety during labor, as well as shorten the duration of labor and the need for medical interventions. A 2017 review of 13 studies found that acupuncture was more effective than sham acupuncture, usual care, or no treatment in reducing pain intensity, pain relief medication use, epidural use, cesarean section rate, and labor duration in pregnant women. However, the quality of the evidence was low to moderate, and more trials with better design and reporting are needed to verify the results.

Is acupuncture safe during pregnancy?

When performed by a licensed and experienced practitioner, acupuncture is generally considered safe during pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) approves the use of acupuncture during pregnancy to manage labor pain. However, there are some precautions and contraindications that you should be aware of before starting acupuncture treatment. These include:

  • Avoiding certain acupuncture points. Some acupuncture points are considered to be forbidden or contraindicated during pregnancy, as they may stimulate uterine contractions or affect the fetus. These include points on the abdomen, lower back, sacrum, and certain points on the hands, feet, and legs. Your acupuncturist should know which points to avoid or use with caution during pregnancy, and should always ask you about your pregnancy status and history before starting treatment.
  • Avoiding electroacupuncture. Electroacupuncture is a technique that involves attaching electrodes to the acupuncture needles and applying a mild electric current to stimulate the points. This may increase the risk of fetal distress or miscarriage, especially in the first trimester. Therefore, electroacupuncture should be avoided or used with extreme caution during pregnancy, and only under the guidance of a qualified and experienced acupuncturist.
  • Avoiding moxibustion. Moxibustion is a technique that involves burning a herb called mugwort near the acupuncture points to warm and stimulate them. This may increase the risk of fetal distress or miscarriage, especially in the first trimester. Therefore, moxibustion should be avoided or used with extreme caution during pregnancy, and only under the guidance of a qualified and experienced acupuncturist.
  • Avoiding acupuncture if you have a bleeding disorder or are taking blood thinners. Acupuncture may cause minor bleeding or bruising at the needle insertion sites, which may be more severe or prolonged if you have a bleeding disorder or are taking blood thinners. Therefore, acupuncture should be avoided or used with extreme caution if you have a bleeding disorder or are taking blood thinners, and only under the guidance of a qualified and experienced acupuncturist.
  • Avoiding acupuncture if you have an infection or a compromised immune system. Acupuncture may introduce bacteria or viruses into the body through the needle insertion sites, which may cause an infection or worsen an existing one. Therefore, acupuncture should be avoided or used with extreme caution if you have an infection or a compromised immune system, and only under the guidance of a qualified and experienced acupuncturist. You should also make sure that your acupuncturist uses sterile, disposable needles and follows proper hygiene and safety protocols.
  • Reporting any adverse effects or complications. Acupuncture is generally safe and well-tolerated, but it may cause some mild and transient side effects, such as pain, bleeding, bruising, swelling, dizziness, fainting, or fatigue. In rare cases, acupuncture may cause serious complications, such as infection, nerve damage, organ injury, or miscarriage. Therefore, you should report any adverse effects or complications to your acupuncturist and your doctor as soon as possible, and seek medical attention if needed.
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