Acupuncture is a type of ancient Chinese medicine. It has been used for thousands of years, and works with over 2,000 pressure points and energy meridians in your body. As you probably know, acupuncture uses disposable needles as thin as a strand of hair placed just below the skin to stimulate these points on your body. Treatments are usually painless. At worst, patients have reported tingling, heaviness, or a slight burning sensation where certain needles are positioned.
What is great for pregnant women is that acupuncture provides assistance with a myriad of conditions associated with pregnancy without drugs. Pregnant women need to work with a highly skilled practitioner, since stimulating certain points on the body can hasten labor by ripening the cervix.
A study by Harvard University figured that over 5 million Americans visit acupuncturists every year. The National Institute of Health supports this claim, saying that a growing number of doctors and dentists refer people to acupuncturists for prevention as well as treatment.
Acupuncture is a common treatment for headaches, allergies, arthritis, digestion problems, and relief from the side effects of chemotherapy. At every stage of pregnancy and beyond, acupuncture has time-honored and scientifically-proven benefits--not just for you but for your baby. Valerie Hobbs, director of the Southwest Acupuncture College, says that babies can be influenced by "maternal toxins" while in the womb. These toxins can lead to higher fevers, frequent childhood illnesses, and a tendency towards skin irritations. Hobbs says, "Regular balancing treatments throughout pregnancy enhance the health of the mother, preventing complications and influence the development of the baby."
FIRST TRIMESTER: MORNING SICKNESS, NAUSEA, BLEEDING, & MIGRAINES
It is controversial if traditional acupuncture can cause fetal movement, early contractions, and spontaneous abortion in the first trimester. However, a well-known acupuncture study was conducted in the UK on about 600 women who were in the first trimester. No adverse reactions were found. Women in the study reported less fatigue, migraines, bloating, and bleeding. Also, the women reported less frequent and less severe bouts of nausea.
To error on the side of caution, you should only trust a nationally-certified and experienced acupuncturist. California is the only state not requiring acupuncturists to be nationally-certified. Again, it's especially important for pregnant women to work only with very experienced practitioners. Although not essential, acupuncturists with a certificate in Chinese herbology is even better, as their understanding of the entire Chinese medicine system will be superior. You can also have "ear acupuncture" (versus "body acupuncture") or acupressure (without needles) done in the first trimester to reduce any risk of complication.
SECOND TRIMESTER: HEARTBURN, HEMORRHOIDS, & STRESS
In addition to heartburn, hemorrhoids, and stress, Hobbs says that second-trimester acupuncture can also reduce edema, high blood pressure, and excessive weight gain. If you are experiencing any of these more serious problems, consult with your regular doctor as well.
THIRD TRIMESTER: BACK AND PELVIC GIRDLE PAIN
The third trimester is universally considered the safest time to undergo acupuncture treatments. Benefits during this stage include relief from: sciatica, back pain, carpal tunnel, and pelvic girdle pain. Acupuncture has actually been found to be better at reducing back pain, which effects ¾ of third trimester women, than massage, heat, and exercise, according to the Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica.
According to BBC News, one in three pregnant women are affected by pelvic girdle pain in the third trimester. In a British study of 386 pregnant women, they were broken up into three groups. One group did a standard at-home exercise routine; the next group did exercise and acupuncture; the final group did a specialized exercise regimen. The expectant moms undergoing acupuncture reported the least pain. Dr. Graham Archard, vice-chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, says, "Pregnant women should be avoiding drugs, so acupuncture, which releases the bodies painkillers, should be of benefit."
IN LABOR: REDUCE PAIN, INCREASE ENERGY
Not only is acupuncture effective at inducing labor with overdue babies, but is can help reposition a breech presentation. Using a form of acupuncture called moxabustion has been shown to have a significant effect on turning breech presentations into head-first births, as reported by the Journal of American Medical Association. Additionally, acupuncture during labor can reduce pain and increase energy and vitality. It has also helped women with extensive bleeding after delivery stop the flow.
POST-PARTUM: RECUPERATING, PREVENTING DEPRESSION
Whether your delivery was by vaginal birth or C-section, acupuncture can bring pain relief. If you are concerned about postpartum depression, Hobbs says, "We theoretically prevent serious postpartum depression from occurring by addressing the normal recuperative cycle in the woman." As acupuncture can help bring your entire self back into balance, feelings of depression and stress will naturally be reduced. It's also been demonstrated that pregnant women receiving acupuncture have a lower rate of postpartum depression.
Shoshana Bennett, Ph.D.
Author, Postpartum Depression for Dummies