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Pregnancy acupuncture: What is it, who is it for & does it work?


If the thought of having dozens of teenie needles poked into your skin doesn’t quite appeal (this is fair), having acupuncture during pregnancy might be the last thing you’d consider. 

But here’s the thing: lots of women swear by acupuncture treatment to alleviate pregnancy nausea, pain, and depression. Plus, some studies indicate that it can reduce the need for medical intervention during childbirth, and even speed up labour. Becoming a human pincushion doesn’t sound so bad now, huh?

So what’s the deal with acupuncture and pregnancy? Does it actually work? Are there risks? That’s what we’re here to find out, so read on!

What is acupuncture? 

Someone who practices traditional Chinese medicine might explain it as a way to balance the flow of energy in the body (known as ‘qi’). A Western medical professional will probably say it’s a way to stimulate nerves, muscles and connective tissues, with promising pain relief outcomes.

Either way, it involves a trained acupuncturist inserting very thin, sterile needles into certain points of your body. They might gently twirl the needles or apply electrical pulses as well. 

But we know the biggest question on your mind: Does it hurt?

When done right, no. In fact, it’s pretty relaxing. More and more mums are turning to acupuncture during pregnancy as a form of self care, with some pretty fantastic benefits to boot.

Acupuncture and pregnancy: How does it work?

Prenatal acupuncturists don’t just jab away at random, you’ll be pleased to learn. They’re trained in what areas of the body correspond to certain physical and emotional responses. (So for example, if you’re experiencing pelvic pain you won’t necessarily have your crotch turned into a hedgehog.) 

In a prenatal treatment, a trained practitioner will focus on key pregnancy acupuncture points to treat your aches, pains and discomforts. (Note: These ‘acupoints’ are given specific reference numbers and names, which will mean nothing to you or I.)

Pregnancy acupuncture points

According to online acupuncture referral service acufinder.com, some of the most commonly used acupuncture points to treat pregnancy ailments include:

  • Zhubin (K 9)The inner ankle bone, right below the calf muscle.
    Used to treat: Hypertension, fear, anxiety, nightmares, and mental disorders. 

  • Zusanli (St 36) – Four fingers below the knee cap, on the outer edge of the tibia.
    Used to treat: Diarrhea, constipation, gastric pain and indigestion. Also helps with insomnia, edema (water retention), and increases energy levels. 

  • Neiguan (P6) – Two fingers above the inner wrist.
    Used to treat: Nausea and vomiting. It’s also great for promoting relaxation.

Variations of acupuncture

Not all acupoint treatment is created equal. Sometimes your doctor or therapist might recommend a different method of stimulating these points. 

  • Traditional acupuncture – Using hair-thin, sterilized needles.

  • Moxibustion – Using heat. (Mugwort leaves are burned close to the skin to stimulate the area.)

  • Suction – Known as ‘cupping’.

What are the benefits of acupuncture during pregnancy?

Okay let’s cut to the chase – how can acupuncture during pregnancy actually help you? 

While many Western doctors note the lack of research around the health benefits of acupuncture, it’s gaining popularity. Obviously because it does something! (By the way, it’s also sometimes used as a fertility treatment.)

Let’s dive into the claims behind this treatment for pregnant mums, and look at what evidence there is to back them up.

Morning sickness 

Acupuncture for pregnancy nausea is a common request from mums in their first trimester – particularly those experiencing severe morning sickness (hyperemesis gravidarum) but not wanting to take medication.

While some studies have indicated an association between acupuncture pregnancy treatment and decreased nausea, there’s not quite enough substantial evidence to say this definitely works. (But it could still be worth a shot if you’re struggling to keep enough food down and get adequate nutrition? Just sayin’.)

Headaches

John Hopkins Medicine notes that acupressure points are believed to stimulate the central nervous system, resulting in biochemical changes that promote the body’s natural healing ability. It’s commonly used to treat headaches, both during and outside of pregnancy.

Pain

Pain relief is one of the main reasons that pregnant women turn to acupuncture during pregnancy. 

The American College of Obstetrician and Gynecologists agrees that it may be useful to treat pain during labour and after delivery. However, it also stipulates that further research is needed to confirm this.

So tell us about BACK PAIN! And PELVIC PAIN!

There’s limited evidence (but evidence nonetheless) that acupuncture may provide relief from back and pelvic pain during pregnancy, which a sh*tload of mums experience. Just get ready for a needle to the ear, as this has proven to be one of the most effective pregnancy acupuncture points for pain relief. 

Sleep

For women struggling with pregnancy insomnia and/or fatigue, acupuncture might help you get a better nights’ sleep. Although, this could be largely because it might relieve pain or anxiety that keeps you up at night. 

Some people report feeling more tired than usual after an acupuncture appointment, too. So perhaps it’s just that.

Depression

If your mental health is taking a beating during your pregnancy, we’re so sorry to hear it. It’s a seriously tough time, and prenatal depression and anxiety are no fun. 

But good news: There’s evidence to suggest that acupuncture can improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression in pregnant mums – and without the potentially harmful side effects of some antidepressants.

Is acupuncture safe during pregnancy?

It is! While it’s still a growing field with limited research available on its effects, studies have shown that there are very limited adverse (bad) effects when it comes to acupuncture and pregnancy. 

In saying that, don’t let a random man in a dark alley stick questionable needles into you. Discuss treatment options with your doctor, and find a qualified practitioner who knows what they’re doing. (Incorrectly done acupuncture during pregnancy could have negative effects.)

Are there specific acupuncture points to avoid during pregnancy?

There are mixed opinions on this. Some acupuncturists will avoid certain acupoints that supposedly trigger contractions. This commonly includes:

  • Spleen 6 – Inside the leg, about a hand width above the ankle bone.

  • Bladder 60 – Just behind the ankle bone on the outer leg.

  • Gallbladder 21 – A spot on your shoulders that feels great when massaged.

  • Large Intestine 4 – The thick muscle point between your thumb and forefinger.

Acupuncture is sometimes used as a natural way to induce labour, so what if you get treatment early too in your pregnancy? Could your therapist accidentally hit the ‘eject’ button, and your baby come flying out?

In short, no. 

Research into these ‘forbidden points’ has shown that there’s no link between these acupuncture points and stillbirth, miscarriage or early labour. But as always, get advice from your medical team on whether or not acupuncture treatment is suitable for you at different stages of your pregnancy.

Alright, time to stick a pin in this article (oh yeah, I just used an acupuncture pun). Hopefully this has given you some insight into whether acupuncture is for you or not.


For more tips, tricks, and firsthand pregnancy insights (read: moaning), check out our Pregnancy articles here.

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