There is plenty to consider during nine months of pregnancy. Often, women have lots of questions and concerns, especially if it is her first pregnancy. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that anytime pregnancy was brought up in our education system, it was really only taught in a context on how to avoid it. So understandably, we have lots of questions. The woman's body goes through a complete transformation, some symptoms are extremely common and not to worry about, and other symptoms might be a reason to seek medical care. Regardless of what you are experiencing, it is good to have a health care professional on your team to ask all the questions along the way.
An acupuncturist may not be the first person that comes to mind when you are thinking of who to assemble for your “pregnancy team.” However, there are many benefits to getting an acupuncturist on board from the very beginning.
Most health care providers do not have the time to sit with you and learn about who you are. This has nothing to do with their lack of desire to get to know you. Unfortunately, it's just how our western medical system is set up. A good acupuncturist will have time for a thorough intake and is a good listener. They will ask you questions in order to deeply understand not only your medical history, but also your emotional health history. Chinese medicine does not differentiate between the physical and emotional body. As you go through the stages of pregnancy, your acupuncturist can be a great point person to ask any questions and concerns that come up since they have the time to deeply listen, and the knowledge to refer out when needed.
We would live in a very different culture if our medical system focused on preventive medicine versus reactive medicine. While acupuncture can be helpful in responding to an imbalance (or state of disease) your body is already going through, acupuncture is best used as a preventative measure. There are many ways your acupuncturist can help support you throughout your entire pregnancy and get ahead of the game by working preventively. However, if and when the body starts to speak up in uncomfortable ways, acupuncture can be an extremely effective and safe solution before needing to turn to other, more invasive options.
While there is still room for plenty of studies to be done on the effects of acupuncture, it is by no means new to the research world. Here are some examples of what women can commonly experience throughout pregnancy and the research that has been done on how acupuncture can be a useful modality with extremely minimal risk to adverse reactions.
Common symptoms or complications that acupuncture can help address:
Research shows that roughly 80% of women experience either nausea, vomiting or both within the first trimester of pregnancy. These symptoms can range in severity, from mild to severe requiring medical attention. Acupuncture has been shown to be a safe and gentle approach in helping mitigate these symptoms.
A randomized control trial was done in a teaching maternity hospital in Adelaide, Australia, researching whether acupuncture made a difference in women less than 14 weeks pregnant who were experiencing nausea, dry retching and vomiting. The 593 participants were randomly separated into four groups, a traditional acupuncture group, PC6 acupuncture, (short for pericardium 6, which is a specific acupuncture point that is known for relieving nausea), sham acupuncture (which is inserting acupuncture needles on areas of the body that are not specific acupuncture points) and a control group (receiving no form of needling/ acupuncture). The evidence concluded that acupuncture is an effective treatment for nausea and dry retching in early pregnancy.
Further research was done on using acupressure on PC6. Acupressure is the stimulation of specific acupuncture points by applying pressure or massage instead of using needles. A study titled, The Effect of Acupressure on the Severity of Nausea, Vomiting, and Retching in Pregnant Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial was conducted in Mashhad, Iran on 90 patients who were under 12 weeks pregnant that were experiencing nausea, vomiting and retching. They were randomly assigned into three groups, one who did acupressure on PC6 four times a day for ten minutes at a time, another group that was assigned to do sham acupressure, and a group that was given medication with vitamin B6 and metoclopramide. Before intervention was given, there was no statistically significant difference between symptoms in the three groups. However, by the fifth day of the study, there was a difference in severity of symptoms, demonstrating that acupressure on PC6 significantly reduces severity of nausea, vomiting and retching. Interestingly, there was also a notable correlation between occupation and the severity of nausea and vomiting.
The body goes through drastic changes during pregnancy. Because of this, it is not uncommon for new aches and pains to arise. People seeking relief for back pain is the number one reason people seek acupuncture. Research has well documented the success in which acupuncture can help alleviate pain. For pregnant women, back, pelvic and hip pain can be quite debilitating, and drugs for pain management are often not ideal to take while pregnant.
Research was conducted to analyze the effects of acupuncture in women who are pregnant with low back pain and pelvic pain. 61 women who were receiving standard conventional care for back and pelvic pain were randomly assigned to two groups, one that continued to receive standard conventional care and one that received acupuncture. The study compared pain levels (using a numerical rating scale), their ability to perform general activities, to walk and to work, and the use of analgesic drugs over the span of 8 weeks. The results concluded that there was a 50% reduction of pain in 78% of the population in the acupuncture group, compared to the 15% of participants in the control group who experienced reduction of pain.
Similarly, a study was done in southern Sweden that looked at the effect of acupuncture for back pain specifically in late pregnancy. The women in the study were 24- 37 weeks pregnant experiencing pelvic and/ or low back pain. Out of the 72 participants, 37 of them were put into the acupuncture group that was treated with traditional acupuncture and local tender points (also known as ashi points) once or twice a week until they gave birth or until pain was resolved. The other 35 women in the control group did not receive any acupuncture. Both groups rated their pain according to the Visual Analog Scale (VAS). Throughout the duration of the study, pain significantly decreased in 60% of the acupuncture group compared to 15% of the population in the control group. The study concluded that acupuncture was beneficial for pregnant women in their third trimester with no serious adverse reactions to the women and no adverse reactions at all to the fetus.
Most people don’t know that acupuncture can help turn a breech baby. The main modality that is used to help turn baby is something called moxa (short for moxibustion). Moxa is a form of heat therapy which consists of dried up plant materials being burnt near specific acupuncture points, in this situation, on BL67 (bladder 67). Most commonly, moxa is made of mugwort (Ai Ye). Traditional Chinese medicine uses moxa to help regulate qi and blood, and has a very nourishing effect on the body with its warmth.
In a women’s hospital in China, research was conducted labeled, Moxibustion for correction of breech presentation: a randomized control trial on 130 participants. Half of the women were placed in an intervention group, who used moxa for 1-2 weeks starting at 33 weeks gestation, and the other half was put into a control group which received routine care but no interventions for breech positioning. Results were measured at 35 weeks gestation, showing 75.5% of women receiving moxa on BL67 had a cephalic presentation (which is the optimal position for baby to be in, head down facing the spine of the mother) compared to the 47.7% of women who had a cephalic presentation in the control group.
Acupressure to decrease pain and length of labor
As previously mentioned, acupressure is the stimulation of specific acupuncture points without using needles. This is a great tool to teach anyone since it does not require needling, and it can be utilized at any moment- such as, the moment you go into labor. Utilizing acupressure as you are preparing for labor and during labor can help prepare and ripen the cervix, decrease pain, shorten duration of labor and increase relaxation. Acupressure is also a great tool to teach your partner/ support person as it gives them something helpful to be doing while you are busy doing most of the heavy lifting.
A randomized control trial was done at a public hospital in India, where there was no access to epidurals and they were not allowed to have a support person with them. The study looked at the outcome of using acupressure while in labor on SP6 (spleen 6). The study showed that the 70 women in the acupressure group had a significantly shorter delivery time and reported less pain during labor compared to the control group of 70 women receiving standard care.
A similar study was done on a different acupressure point, LI4 (large intestine 4). In this study, 100 women who were at the beginning of the active phase of labor (meaning they were 3-4 cm dilated with regular contractions) were split into two groups. The women in the acupressure group received deep massage on LI4, while the women in the control group received touch with no pressure on LI4. The results showed that there was a statistically significant decrease of pain and decrease of length of labor in the acupressure group.