Acupuncture in Pregnancy

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Recently I ran into a patient who I had worked with across two pregnancies. It brought so much joy to see her out with her baby. While chatting, she told me how acupuncture helped her through each of her pregnancies. I love that!

I really enjoy working with pregnant women. It’s such a special time in life and I feel lucky to be able to offer something tangible that may help them through this time of great transition. 

Women’s bodies are going through so much change during pregnancy and I find, anecdotally from my own clinical experience, that their bodies are often more sensitive and receptive to the gentle art of acupuncture. During gestation, we give careful consideration to both the mother and fetus so as to nurture and support the process. 

Pregnant women are often particularly careful about what they consume and receive advice from their doctors about which over the counter and prescription medicines are safe while pregnant. Knowing that acupuncture can be safe and effective offers another treatment option where other options may not be advised. 

Another thing with pregnancy is that underneath the exterior of a what a blessed time this is, is perhaps a woman with stress.

Questions about readiness and change, possibly coupled with low energy, diminished sleep, appetite changes (to name a few) are often occurring simultaneously as they continue with regular responsibilities of work and/or childcare, making plans for changes in the future, re-shaping their homes, etc. It’s a lot! Getting acupuncture is a quiet time and allows them a place to rest and receive support. Patients often tell me they feel better coming in. 

Here is a partial list of general conditions common to pregnant women that I’ve worked with and found acupuncture to be helpful:

Fatigue 

Musculoskeletal aches and pains

Headache 

Nausea and/or vomiting

Stress

Depression

Constipation 

As we move towards greater integration of conventional / Western care and treatment with other complementary modalities (such as acupuncture), I hope we’ll see more studies on the safety and efficacy of acupuncture as part of a potential treatment plan for those with risk of pre-eclampsia (PE), gestational diabetes, and other riskier pregnancies. We’ll see… 

In the meantime, here are some links to scientific evidence around acupuncture and pregnancy: 

Debra Betts’ robust website with links to research for pelvic pain, nausea, breech presentation, prebirth, cervical ripening, and depression in pregnancy. Here’s the link to pain relief in labor: http://acupuncture.rhizome.net.nz/acupuncture/research/reducing-labour-pain/

Nei-Guan point acupressure is a useful treatment for relieving symptoms experienced by women with hyperemesis gravidarum.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17645494

There is high-quality evidence reporting the benefits of herbal medicines and acupuncture to treat nausea in pregnancy.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26866600

In women’s health, acupuncture has been found to be beneficial for patients with premenstrual syndrome, dysmenorrhea, several pregnancy-related conditions, and nausea in females who have cancers.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18803496

[This study was designed to check for a different condition, but also said the following.] Good clinical evidence has been reported for the effect of PC6 acupuncture in preventing or attenuating postoperative and pregnancy related nausea.”  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18356796

[Fourth year medical students in London can take a course in Chinese Medicine. Here’s an essay on migraine + acupuncture + pregnancy.] “…acupuncture for migraine relief has been recommended by NICE as a non-pharmacological measure for migraine headaches(59). Since acupuncture has the potential to relieve migraine pain without the added fear of teratogenicity, it may be a useful alternative or adjunct for analgesic medications given in pregnancy.” http://www.cmir.org.uk/kcl-ssc-student-submissions

“Given the high prevalence of nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy, women and health professionals need clear guidance about effective and safe interventions, based on systematically reviewed evidence. There is a lack of high-quality evidence to support any particular intervention. This is not the same as saying that the interventions studied are ineffective, but that there is insufficient strong evidence for any one intervention. The difficulties in interpreting and pooling the results of the studies included in this review highlight the need for specific, consistent and clearly justified outcomes and approaches to measurement in research studies.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26348534

The summarized findings indicated a small but growing body of acupuncture research, with some evidence suggesting a benefit from acupuncture to treat nausea in pregnancy. Findings from the review also highlighted promising evidence for the effectiveness of acupuncture to manage back and pelvic pain, acupuncture-type interventions to induce change in breech presentation, and pain relief in labor. The methodological quality of recent trials has improved, and the quality of systematic reviews was high. CONCLUSIONS: Interest is growing in the use of acupuncture to treat some complaints during pregnancy and childbirth, and evidence is beginning to consolidate that acupuncture may assist with the management of some complaints during pregnancy. However, definitive conclusions about its effectiveness cannot be reached and further research is justified.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19747272

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