Is it safe to get acupuncture from a naturopath during the 3rd trimester?
Acupuncture is commonly used by Naturopathic Doctors during pregnancy – especially in the third trimester. Many studies confirm the safety of acupuncture, as there are no significant differences in delivery outcomes compared to women who don’t receive acupuncture.
In the third trimester, the two most common reasons a pregnant person would book an acupuncture treatment is to:
- Help turn irregular positioning of the baby (ex. a breech, transverse or posterior baby)
- Prepare their body for birth
Acupuncture for Breech or Irregular Positioning
Breech position is a common presentation during pregnancy. This means that your baby is presenting as head point up towards your ribs, instead of down in your pelvis. Once your care provider assesses the baby’s position as breech, likely through an ultrasound, they may discuss a caesarean birth or vaginal breech birth if your baby does not move to a head-down position before birth.
Not all hope is lost though! Moxibustion is a technique performed by our Naturopathic Doctors to help your baby move into an optimal position. Otherwise known as moxa, moxibustion is the application of heat using a moxa stick (composed of compressed mugwort) to a specific acupuncture point, which is known to help facilitate your baby turning.
We have to be honest here: moxa does feel a little like witchcraft. It involves holding a lit stick of incense over your toe every day for a few minutes. But as anyone that has ever used it can tell you – it actually does make a difference. Breech mamas tell us all the time that when they are using moxa that their babies start moving around tons in their bellies.
You can book your moxa appointment for fetal malpositions around 33-36 weeks pregnant. There are some contraindications to be aware of however. They include: uterine and/or placental anomalies, multiple gestation, single or double footling breech, vaginal bleeding, and ruptured membranes. In addition, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (ex. pre-eclampsia) may be aggravated by moxa.
Acupuncture for Birth Preparation
There are acupuncture points in Traditional Chinese Medicine that are considered forbidden during many weeks of pregnancy, as they promote uterine contractions and cervical dilation. By 37 weeks pregnant, these are the actions that we want to begin. We want to start promoting cervical dilation and regular contractions. And because baby is commonly around term at this point, it’s safe to begin to use these points to help prepare for labour – unless otherwise directed by your care provider.
Around 37 weeks pregnant, many pregnant people begin weekly acupuncture sessions to prepare their body for birth. Studies show that acupuncture demonstrates some benefit in improving cervical maturity, and has been suggested to be effective for managing and reducing pain in labour, improving pain management, decreasing the need of pharmacological pain relief, and decreasing cesarean birth rates. Using acupuncture may result in a shorter time to the onset of labour, and a shorter labour duration.
Can acupuncture immediately put a pregnant person into labour? Nope, acupuncture doesn’t work like that – though many of our patients wish it would! However, acupuncture for cervical ripening is a great way to move the needle (pun intended) to hopefully ripen the cervix so that when labour DOES start, it’s more efficient. And who wouldn’t want a more efficient labour? While some of our pregnant patients do start acupuncture at week 40 or later when they’re just really done with being pregnant, we do generally recommend getting started at around week 37 for optimal results for cervical ripening.
Because we know you’re thinking about it: no, the needles do not go in your cervix! (Could you imagine?!) The needles are placed in places like your hands, arms and legs, and they’re actually super comfortable and not usually painful. You can cross your worries about that off your list.
If you’re in the third trimester, consider using acupuncture as a tool to help you achieve the birth that you desire! Please feel free to book an appointment with any of our Naturopathic Doctors or contact us if you have any questions.
Levett, K., Smith, C., Dahlen, H., & Bensoussan, A. (2014). Acupuncture and acupressure for pain management in labour and birth: A critical narrative review of current systematic review evidence. Complementary Therapies In Medicine, 22(3), 523-540. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2014.03.011
Moon, H., Kim, M., Hwang, D., Jang, J., Lee, J., & Shin, J. et al. (2019). Safety of acupuncture during pregnancy: a retrospective cohort study in Korea. BJOG: An International Journal Of Obstetrics & Gynaecology. doi: 10.1111/1471-0528.15925
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