With all the poking and prodding that comes along with pregnancy, getting stuck with needles voluntarily probably seems like the last thing you’d want to do. But when it comes to banishing some pregnancy woes, many moms-to-be sing the praises of acupuncture. In fact, both scientific research too says acupuncture can help ease many of the common aches and discomforts of pregnancy.
Acupuncture is a healing art that originated in China thousands of years ago. Traditional Chinese medicine views the body as two opposing forces, yin and yang. When an imbalance occurs between the two, it blocks what Chinese medicine refers to as qi (pronounced CHEE), or the flow of vital energy along internal pathways (known as meridians) in our bodies. During acupuncture, a practitioner inserts hair-thin needles through the skin at points along the meridians to correct imbalances and restore health.
So does it work? Researchers have found that acupuncture points correspond to deep-seated nerves, so that when the needles are twirled or electrically stimulated (known as electropuncture), the nerves are activated. This, in turn, triggers the release of several brain chemicals, including endorphins, which block pain signals and help to relieve a number of pregnancy symptoms.
Benefits of acupuncture during pregnancy
Many people credit acupuncture for easing a wide range of pregnancy symptoms including heartburn, swelling in the legs, constipation, carpal tunnel syndrome, sciatica and more.
Here are some of the pregnancy symptoms acupuncture can relieve that science has studied:
Morning sickness: Some studies have shown that traditional acupuncture that targets the wrist can reduce the nausea and vomiting associated with morning sickness.
Lower back and pelvic pain: Research published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology reports acupuncture could reduce pain in the lower back along with pelvic pain. Pregnant women in their late second and third trimesters received acupuncture on points on the ear; sham acupuncture (so-called “fake” acupuncture, done at nonspecific points); or no treatment at all. At the one-week follow-up, about 80 percent of women in the acupuncture group had a clinically significant reduction in pain, compared to 56 percent in the sham acupuncture group and only 36 percent for the group who received no treatment.
Depression: Depression during pregnancy is common, affecting nearly one in four women — but a targeted type of acupuncture may help. For a study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, during eight weeks clinically-depressed pregnant women who weren’t previously taking antidepressants received general acupuncture, acupuncture specific for depression, or massage. The severity of depression symptoms decreased most among women who received acupuncture for depression. And 63 percent of the women who received the depression-specific acupuncture responded to the treatment, compared to 44 percent in the general acupuncture and massage groups.
Headaches: Research has shown that acupuncture can reduce pregnancy-induced headaches; women who received it also used less medication.
Sleep Problems. Getting to sleep and staying asleep is trickier than ever during pregnancy — but some research has shown that women who receive acupuncture sleep better during pregnancy, too.
When done properly by a trained professional, acupuncture during pregnancy is considered safe and has few risks. Most risks are associated with acupuncture in general, such as soreness, redness or infection at the insertion sites, and injury from needles placed too deeply.
The biggest concern during pregnancy is where the acupuncture is performed: There are several acupuncture and acupressure points (like those in the ankle) that are said to induce contractions — which is why they should be avoided until term and used as an all natural form of induction.