3,000 years of medicine can not be wrong. An increasing number of women are turning to acupuncture for assistance with common pregnancy discomforts.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an ancient healing system that is rooted in over 3,000 years of history. Unlike Western medicine, TCM aims to assist in creating wholeness and harmony within a person, offering tools that allow the body to heal itself. Rather than treating specific conditions, a TCM practitioner will attempt to get to the root of the imbalance.
According to Chinese medicine, there is no separation between physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
The underlying premise of TCM relates to Qi (pronounced “chee”), the life force energy that comprises everything in the universe. Ideally, qi flows freely throughout our body. However, when illness, pain, or other health conditions arise, it is due to a disruption in the function of qi.
There are over 2,000 acupuncture points on the human body that connect with 14 major pathways, or meridians. It is believed that the meridians conduct qi between the surface of the body and the internal organs. Inserting small needles into acupuncture points is said to restore energy flow back into the proper balance.
This holistic view of health makes pregnancy an ideal time to explore acupuncture. Due to the numerous potential side-effects of Western medicine, including the use of pharmaceuticals, many pregnant women are seeking alternative approaches. Acupuncture, when received from a qualified licensed practitioner, has been shown to be extremely safe during pregnancy.
As any mother can attest, pregnancy is a time of profound physical and emotional transformation. According to TCM, the health of the parents at the time of conception directly impacts the child’s qi. Further, a healthy pregnancy, one in which qi flows freely to the developing baby, leads to health and harmony for the newborn child.
Above all else, acupuncture allows women to make intentional decisions about their health. It is incredibly empowering to realize that pregnancy is not something that happens to our bodies. Acupuncture can help a woman come to terms with the significant changes that occur while trying to conceive, no matter the outcome.
Acupuncture has been shown to offer significant health benefits during pregnancy, as well as to alleviate some common ailments associated with pregnancy. While the list is virtually endless, here are ten ways that acupuncture can be beneficial during pregnancy.
1. Acupuncture May Help Fertility
Even before you are pregnant, acupuncture can help. Several studies have demonstrated the positive effects that acupuncture has on fertility. Acupuncture can increase fertility by reducing stress, increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs, and balancing the hormonal system involved in pregnancy.
A number of fertility doctors agree that acupuncture adds value to standard infertility treatments. As such, some infertility specialists offer acupuncture in their offices. NYU Langone’s Fertility Center, for example, provides their patients with onsite acupuncture services.
“When a woman is struggling, we want all hands, eyes, and ears on deck. I’ve seen women respond better to IVF while doing acupuncture, and I’ve seen women who’ve stopped all Western treatments for infertility because they’re exhausted and then try acupuncture and get pregnant. Maybe that would have happened regardless, we don’t know,” said Sheeva Talebian, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist at the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine in New York City.
2. Acupuncture Helps to Alleviate Morning Sickness
According to the American Pregnancy Association, more than 50% of women experience morning sickness. While typically short-lived and harmless, morning sickness can lead to the more serious health condition of hyperemesis gravidarum.
As recent studies have shown modern drugs to be ineffective against morning sickness, more and more women are turning to acupuncture. Acupuncture has been shown to reduce the symptoms of morning sickness.
According to the British Acupuncture Council, major energetic shifts occur during the early stages of pregnancy, sometime resulting in nausea, vomiting, and belching. As the acupuncture releases blocked energy, the mother is able to enjoy her pregnancy.
3. Acupuncture Can Alleviate Migraines and Headaches
For women who suffer from migraines or frequent headaches, getting pregnant can pose a host of new problems. Hormonal changes of pregnancy tend to make migraines worse or eliminate them all together. For those women who suffer from headaches, many of the medications that they once took are off-limits during pregnancy.
Research has shown acupuncture to successfully alleviate tension-type headaches during pregnancy. A 2013 study showed women who received acupuncture for headaches during pregnancy had significantly less pain, required less medication, and had a significant improvement in mood and sleep than women who used conventional treatment alone.
4. Acupuncture Lessens Depression and Anxiety
Chinese medicine understands something that Western medicine has yet to fully embrace: the mind and body are intricately connected. When the mind suffers, the physical body also is impacted, and vice versa. That is why it is imperative that women experiencing mood disorders during pregnancy are appropriately screened and treated.
Close to 15 percent of pregnant women suffer from major depressive disorder. While many women take antidepressants during pregnancy, recent evidence suggests that there are substantial risks to the infant in taking SSRIs.
A 2010 study out of Stanford University found that acupuncture substantially reduces the symptoms of major depressive disorder during pregnancy. The researchers found that 63 percent of the women who received depression-specific acupuncture treatments reported that their symptoms were cut in half. In fact, 70% of the women responded positively to treatment with acupuncture for depression during pregnancy.
5. Acupuncture Can Help Relieve Insomnia and Other Sleep Difficulties
Sleep is a time of restoration and consistent sleep is essential, especially during pregnancy. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, night represents Yin time, which means stillness, darkness, coldness, and being passive.
Many TCM health practitioners believe that insomnia or difficulty sleeping during pregnancy is caused by yin depletion and Qi and blood depletion. As the baby grows in the womb, it requires more nutrients and blood from its mother. If enough blood is taken, there is not enough for mom to nourish her heart and mind, thus resulting in insomnia.
6. Acupuncture Treats Lower Back Pain and Pelvic Pain
Aches and pains are par for the course in pregnancy. Pregnancy hormones relax the tendons and ligaments of the body, sometimes triggering back pain early in pregnancy. Additionally, as the baby grows, the additional weight adds stress to the already stretched ligaments. In fact, lower back pain and pelvic pain have been shown to affect between half and three-quarters of all pregnant women.
In a 2008 systematic review published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, researchers found that acupuncture, as an adjunct to standard treatment, was superior to standard treatment alone and physiotherapy in relieving mixed pelvic/back pain.
7. Acupuncture Can Address Swelling and Blood Pressure Problems
Most women experience swelling of their legs, ankles, and feet, especially towards the end of their pregnancy. From a Chinese medicine perspective, this swelling – or edema – is sometimes caused by kidney yang deficiency. Edema can also be caused by Qi stagnation, a common occurrence in pregnancy. Acupuncture can nourish kidney yang and help to move the Qi, thus improving fluid circulation.
Excessive swelling during pregnancy is sometimes linked with blood pressure difficulties as well. Pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH) affects 2-3 percent of women. Several studies have shown acupuncture to be effective in treating high blood pressure in pregnancy.
8. Acupuncture May Help to Induce Labor
Occasionally, there are medically sound reasons to induce labor, but they must be carefully weighed against the risks. Traditional Western inductions include sweeping of membranes, artificially softening the cervix, and augmentation with medications such as Pitocin. All of these interventions are associated with increased risk of complications, including the need for a cesarean section.
Acupuncture, on the other hand, can be used to avoid medical induction and timeframes. To induce labor, a woman’s energy needs to be invigorated and moved downwards and outwards. Additionally, the baby needs to move from a relaxed and restful “yin state” to a more active and moving “yang state.” For acupuncture induction to work, both mom and baby need to be ready.
A 2008 Cochrane review examined ten studies on labor induction and acupuncture and concluded that acupuncture appears to be beneficial in labor induction.
9. Acupuncture Can Help to Turn a Breech Baby
Acupuncture and an adjunct technique called moxibustion has been used for centuries to help turn breech babies. Moxibustion, or Moxa, uses a Chinese herb that is rolled into sticks and burned close to an acupuncture point at the end of the little toe. Stimulation of this point has been used successfully in China for hundreds of years. Moxa is sometimes used in combination with acupuncture points that help to remove tension and restrictions.
10. Acupuncture Can Offer Pain Relief During Childbirth
For women seeking a more natural childbirth, acupuncture may be the answer. Acupuncture has been found to reduce the experience of pain during childbirth. Even if you are seeking an epidural, acupuncture has been shown to enhance the effects of epidural analgesia. An increasing number of hospitals are offering acupuncture as a service to women on the labor and delivery unit.