Acupuncture is often used during pregnancy as it may reduce pain, and support the body throughout the many conditions experienced throughout all three trimesters of pregnancy. Most importantly, it can safely be used alongside conventional medical practice.
Is Acupuncture During Pregnancy Safe?
Studies confirm the safety of acupuncture, as there is no significant difference in delivery outcomes compared to women who do not receive acupuncture. Always check with your healthcare practitioner if you are starting a new protocol or have any questions.
Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea and vomiting is an incredibly common condition affecting up to 85% of pregnant women. Symptoms may begin around weeks 6 to 8, and typically decrease by week 20. Overall quality of life, ability to work, and interactions with others may be affected by nausea and vomiting.
Acupuncture, as well as acupressure (the manual stimulation of points), has been shown to reduce symptoms of nausea and vomiting. One study demonstrated that women receiving weekly acupuncture treatments, experienced less nausea after 3 weeks compared to sham and no acupuncture.
Overall, both acupuncture and acupressure are considered first-line treatment for mild-moderate nausea and vomiting in pregnancy.
Migraines and tension-type headaches usually improve over the course of a pregnancy, because of rising estrogen. Nevertheless, women reporting headaches towards the end of the first trimester may continue to experience them throughout pregnancy.
Acupuncture has been shown to be effective in reducing headache pain associated with pregnancy, there was a decrease in medication needed, as well as an improvement in sleep and mood.
Insomnia is defined as trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, as well as poor sleep quality. About 5-38% of pregnant women report insomnia during early pregnancy, which increases to about 60% towards the end of pregnancy. For the most part, this increase is due to back pain, need to urinate, and fetal movement.
Studies show that insomnia experienced while pregnant, is a risk factor for postpartum mood disorders such as anxiety. Fortunately, one study showed that acupuncture showed benefits on sleep quality and insomnia during pregnancy. Acupuncture has also been shown to increase melatonin levels, which are often lowered in pregnant women.
Depression and Anxiety
Depression and anxiety are common conditions experienced by many pregnant women. Up to 29% of pregnant women experience depression while pregnant. Ultimately, this may impact mood and behaviour in the postpartum.
Along with therapies including psychotherapy and psycho-education, acupuncture has been shown to support milder forms of depression. Studies show that acupuncture may decrease depression in women
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a frequent condition in pregnancy (usually in the third trimester), and is characterized by the entrapment of the median nerve in the wrist by the transverse carpal ligament. It usually happens because of hormonal changes and swelling, thereby increasing pressure in the area. Symptoms include numbness and tingling in the fingers. Acupuncture has been shown to improve symptoms, function, and pain in those with carpal tunnel syndrome.
Digestive disorders are one of the most common symptoms in pregnancy, which include heartburn, belching, bloating, epigastric pain or discomfort, and/or regurgitation. This is often due to hormonal changes, specifically progesterone. One study reported a decrease of heartburn symptoms by acupuncture.
Back & Pelvic Girdle Pain
Back and pelvic girdle pain is another common condition experienced by many pregnant women, affecting their ability to sit, stand, and walk. Along with chiropractic and pelvic floor physiotherapy treatments, acupuncture has been shown to be a complementary treatment and has benefits with pain relief.
Thankfully only about 5% of babies are born breech. However, if your baby presents as breech after week 32 or 34 of your pregnancy, you may wish to try some techniques to naturally encourage your baby to turn head-down for a vaginal birth. Techniques include moxibustion (with your Naturopathic Doctor or Acupuncturist) or the Webster Technique (with your Chiropractor) to help facilitate your baby turning.
Moxibustion (otherwise known as moxa) is the application of heat produced by the burning of a moxa stick. While we don’t know exactly what moxa does, a theory has been proposed that it promotes uterine contractions increasing fetal movement causing turning. When we do it on our mamas, they always report that they feel their babies moving a lot more during the treatment!
At West End Mamas, we recommend starting moxa around 33-36 weeks pregnant. However, there are some contraindications to moxa including uterine and/or placental anomalies, multiple gestation, single or double footling breech, vaginal bleeding, and ruptured membranes. In addition, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy may be aggravated by moxa.
Towards the end of the third trimester, many pregnant people will begin weekly acupuncture sessions to prepare their bodies for labour. This is referred to as “cervical ripening”. The idea here is that we want your cervix to be ready to go when you go into labour – or if you are induced – so that things will move along more efficiently. Acupuncture shows some benefit in improving cervical maturity and has been suggested to be effective for managing and reducing pain in labour, decreasing the need for pharmacological pain relief, decreasing c-section rates, and improving pain management.
Moreover, studies have shown that using acupuncture may result in a shorter time to labour onset, and shorter labour duration. Pregnant people who receive acupuncture, report that it enhances their self control in doing something about the labour process. We recommend beginning weekly treatments around 36 weeks.
Acupuncture and Next Steps
If you’re experiencing any of the above conditions, and would like to give acupuncture a try, please feel free to book an appointment with any of our Naturopathic Doctors or Acupuncturists.
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