5 Important Reasons Why You ABSOLUTELY Should Get Acupuncture When You’re Pregnant!
As a doctor of Chinese medicine specializing in fertility, pregnancy, and women’s health, the majority of my patients come to see me when they are TTC (trying to conceive), and while many of them continue care throughout their pregnancy and beyond, others fall off, seemingly unaware just how much acupuncture is able to help throughout the three trimesters and in preparation for labor and birth. Some women have even been told by their western medical doctors not to come in for acupuncture when they’re pregnant, even if they previously recommended it for fertility! It has become clear that there is more ignorance and fear surrounding acupuncture in pregnancy than there is a genuine understanding of the actual research and potential benefits.
When you’re busy growing a human life, you don’t have much time or energy to stop and deal with feeling pain or other discomforts. Your only options are to suffer through it, turn to western medicine drugs (which aren’t always safe in pregnancy or while breastfeeding), or to find other alternatives, such as acupuncture and TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). Thankfully, acupuncture has been safely and effectively used for centuries during pregnancy to help mamas-to-be get back on their feet quickly and encourage a smooth transition into motherhood.
Acupuncture reduces the risk of miscarriage.
Typically, in the first trimester women wonder if they’re even really pregnant, despite the positive pregnancy tests. This can provoke anxiety, especially if there is a history of miscarriage, trouble conceiving, or infertility. Acupuncture is wonderful at calming the nervous system and reducing the stress hormone cortisol, which can be detrimental for newly developing life. Elevated cortisol is associated with an increased risk of early miscarriage (Nepomnaschy et al., 2006), and amazingly, acupuncture demonstrates beneficial hormonal responses with decreased miscarriage rates. (Betts, Smith, and Hannah, 2012.)
Acupuncture treats morning sickness, insomnia, aches, pain and most other symptoms throughout the pregnancy.
First Trimester – Common symptoms that women can experience are bleeding and/or cramping, which can either be normal (an estimated 20% of pregnant women will experience vaginal bleeding in the first 12 weeks) or signs of threatened miscarriage. Acupuncture, moxibustion, and even Chinese herbs are just a few of the things your acupuncturist may suggest to help stop vaginal bleeding and “calm the fetus.” Even more common are other ailments such as morning sickness/nausea and vomiting, acid reflux, and trouble sleeping. Your acupuncturist’s treatment goals will depend on what you’ve got going on at each appointment, but generally speaking, acupuncture will help strengthen and consolidate the pregnancy by using “lifting” and “holding” points. Acupuncture taps into your body’s innate wisdom and power to channel energy into this new life you are creating!
Second Trimester – This is usually the time where your body gets a nice break! Your baby bump has finally appeared and you’re starting to feel baby moving around. However, it is also common to start having other symptoms appear, such as swollen hands or feet, leg cramps, heartburn, backaches and nosebleeds – all of which acupuncture can help! Acupuncture improves microcirculation and blood flow, and it can reduce swelling and relieve pain.
Third Trimester – Nausea and vomiting can make a reappearance, as well as other common complaints like low back and hip pain, hemorrhoids, sciatica, and carpal tunnel. This is also a very important time to make sure that baby is vertex (head down) – and not breech or otherwise malpositioned- to help ensure a normal, vaginal delivery. Again, acupuncture can be incredibly useful for all ailments at this stage in pregnancy. You will also want to start preparing your body for labor, especially if you are a first-time mother or you’ve had an induced labor or cesarean section in the past. Acupuncture has been shown to be quite effective at ripening the cervix, and according to research, may actually help reduce the entire duration of labor, reduce pain perception, reduce likelihood of cesarean section and increase likelihood of vaginal delivery, and help strengthen uterine contractions.
Acupuncture the best way to get more ME time.
Being pregnant is the most brilliant “excuse” to pamper yourself and indulge in self-care practices. Take a moment to sit back and think about the tools you already use already to support yourself on this journey. Perhaps you invest in a monthly massage. Maybe you have joined in birth preparation or prenatal yoga classes. Or, maybe you enjoy the occasional chiropractic adjustment. All of those are incredibly beneficial for a growing belly! So, why not invest some time and money for acupuncture, as well? Besides all the proven health benefits of acupuncture in pregnancy, at the very least you get a 30-minute refreshing nap when you need it the most. After all, there won’t be much rest and relaxation in your near future! J
Acupuncture helps improve birth outcomes.
The fact is that the overall labor induction rates have dramatically increased in the United States since the 1980s and have actually more than doubled nationwide from 1990 through 2010, from 9.6% to 23.8%. One in five women are induced or have labor augmented with uterine-stimulating drugs or artificial rupture of membranes to accelerate labor (MacDorman, Mathews, Martin, & Malloy, 2002; Zhang, Yancey, & Henderson, 2002). Induction of labor with Pitocin or Cervadil can lead to a cascade of medical interventions, such as C-sections, all of which come with risks for mom and baby.
However, acupuncture is safe (C. A. Smith, Crowther, and Grant, 2013; Carr, 2015), and given the risks of having a medicalized labor and birth, integrative care with acupuncture may be considered in place of, or in addition to, having a biomedical induction. According to the research, perinatal acupuncture may be beneficial to ripen the cervix, shorten labor durations (especially the first stage of labor), increase vaginal deliveries, and lessen medical interventions.
Acupuncture is not JUST acupuncture.
Perhaps this is most important takeaway! Many acupuncturists and doctors of Chinese medicine, such as myself and the team at Phoenix Rising Acupuncture in Houston, are integrative medicine practitioners. This means that acupuncture is just one tool that we use to help our patients. Along with acupuncture, we offer comprehensive support, clinical nutrition, supplement recommendations, herbal prescriptions, lifestyle modifications, hands-on therapeutic Chinese bodywork (Tui Na and Gua Sha), and moxibustion (heating therapy) whenever appropriate. Chinese medicine is nothing if not holistic and individualized, so your treatment plan and protocol is customized and will look different from someone else’s. It will also most certainly change as your needs change throughout the weeks and months of pregnancy.
The bottom line is that as integrative medicine practitioners, we work diligently to help keep you healthy and thriving in every way possible. At Phoenix Rising Acupuncture, where we are one of the only integrative medicine clinics in the Houston area that specializes in fertility, pregnancy and postpartum support, we suggest weekly sessions during pregnancy to ensure optimal health, and prevent and treat anything from a cold/flu virus to pre-eclampsia to a breech baby – and everything in between!
Betts, D., Smith, C. A., & Hannah, D. G. (2012). Acupuncture as a therapeutic treatment option for threatened miscarriage. BMC complementary and alternative medicine, 12, 20. https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6882-12-20
Carr, D. J. (2015). The safety of obstetric acupuncture: Forbidden points revisited. Acupuncture in Medicine: Journal of The British Medical Acupuncture Society, 33(5), 413–419.
MacDorman, M. F., Reddy, U. M., & Silver, R. M. (2015). Trends in stillbirth by gestational age in the United States, 2006–2012. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 126(6), 1146–1150. doi:10.1097/AOG.0000000000001152
Nepomnaschy, P. A., Welch, K. B., McConnell, D. S., Low, B. S., Strassmann, B. I., & England, B. G. (2006). Cortisol levels and very early pregnancy loss in humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 103(10), 3938–3942. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0511183103
Smith, C. A., Armour, M., & Dahlen, H. G. (2017). Acupuncture or acupressure for induction of labour. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 10, Article No. CD002962. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD002962.pub4
Zhang, J., Yancey, M. K., & Henderson, C. E. (2002). U.S. National trends in labor induction, 1989–1998. Journal of Reproductive Medicine, 47(2), 120–124.
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