by Stef Cordes and Lisa Baird
We hear this question all the time: “Is acupuncture safe during pregnancy?” The short answer is “Yes, absolutely, and it’s rare for a day to go by without seeing someone at some stage of pregnancy in one of our recliners–we treat a lot of pregnant people!”
Acupuncture is effective at providing relief for many common complaints during pregnancy. This includes many conditions that are typically managed by medications, like anxiety for example–some of our patients prefer choose to go off their medications during pregnancy.
Acupuncture significantly relieves fatigue, migraine headaches and the nausea and vomiting that can happen during the first trimester. Nausea and vomiting (commonly referred to as morning sickness, although it can happen at any time) occurs in about half of all pregnancies and it can be severe. Changing hormones, fluctuating blood sugar levels, stress and fatigue can all cause nausea. (In terms of Traditional Chinese Medicine this is referred to as “rebellious stomach qi” as the stomach qi is supposed to go down, not up.) Acupuncture is very effective for any kind of nausea, including the kind associated with pregnancy. Relief is available for nausea during pregnancy!
The second trimester sometimes brings with it constipation and hemorrhoids, as well as heartburn. An increase in the hormone progesterone relaxes the smooth muscles of the uterus and possibly also relaxes the stomach valve, allowing gastric acids to creep up into the esophagus. Progesterone also slows the wave-like contractions of the stomach, causing sluggish digestion and constipation. Acupuncture won’t interfere with the actions of progesterone on the uterus, but our pregnant patients frequently get quick relief from constipation and heartburn.
Back pain, pelvic pain, sciatica and joint pain are common complaints during the third trimester. The hormone relaxin helps tendons and ligaments to loosen, allowing the hips and pelvic outlet to widen, and it softens and widens the cervix. This process can cause debilitating sciatica, hip and back pain and disrupted sleep. Acupuncture won’t stop relaxin from doing its job, but regular treatment can give excellent pain relief, reduced inflammation and improved sleep.
Bleeding and threatened miscarriage
Bleeding and cramping can happen at any stage of pregnancy and should always be taken seriously. Most pregnant people who report bleeding but have a fetal heartbeat and closed cervix are told to just “wait and see” which often leaves them feeling helpless, isolated and fearful. Research shows that having good support and reduced stress levels helps to reduce the chances of miscarriage in these situations. Community acupuncture helps by breaking isolation, offering comfort, reducing stress, balancing hormone levels and inhibiting uterine contractions.
Pre-birth acupuncture treatments are intended to help ripen the cervix (“ripening” refers to the physical softening necessary for delivery), calm the sympathetic nervous system, improve blood flow to the reproductive organs, strengthen energy in preparation for labour, and provide relief from stress & anxiety as necessary. The acupuncture also gently moves energy around the baby so they are more likely to drop into the correct position if not yet engaged. We can also continue to treat any other pregnancy complaints such as the ones mentioned above.
Studies show promising statistics on the positive effects of acupuncture for cervical ripening, including shorter duration of labour, a reduction in medical inductions, and a reduction in requests for epidural with an overall increase in normal vaginal deliveries.
If you have questions about how acupuncture can support you during pregnancy, please get in touch.