Thanks to a recent talk I gave to an amazing group of doulas (hey, NYC Doula Collective!), there's been an uptick in the number of pregnant people coming to my practice, and I've been learning how much misinformation is out there regarding acupuncture treatment during pregnancy. While the use of acupuncture and Chinese herbs for supporting fertility and conception is relatively well-known at this point, I often receive questions about what acupuncture can do for pregnant people, and whether it’s even safe and appropriate. The short answer is, a lot, and yes, absolutely! Read on to learn about the use of acupuncture during pregnancy, including safety information and common conditions that we acupuncturists regularly encounter in our pregnant patients.
First of all....acupuncture is helpful for pregnant (and pretty much all) people
Clinical research shows that acupuncture is anti-inflammatory, lowers blood sugar, lowers blood pressure, increases circulation of blood and lymph, increases endorphins and opioids (natural pain killers), and prevents the chemicals that signal pain from even being formed. Given the changes in and stresses on the body that occur during pregnancy, acupuncture treatment is a perfect fit for pregnant people and the health issues that arise during pregnancy. Acupuncture has been studied extensively and is effective in the treatment of nausea and vomiting, blood pressure regulation, musculoskeletal pain, headaches and migraines, and digestive issues -- which are all common during pregnancy.
Why is acupuncture a natural fit for pregnant people?
Many people come in while pregnant to continue treatment of their preexisting health conditions, while others show up during the 3rd trimester for things like sciatic-type pain or GERD, or to prepare for labor. Some people choose to receive acupuncture treatment throughout pregnancy. While most of the below health concerns can pop up at any point during pregnancy, I am including them in the trimester where they often appear for the first time.
People often benefit from regular acupuncture treatment during the 1st trimester, especially for nausea/vomiting and fatigue.
- History of miscarriage
- Threatened miscarriage
- Nausea and vomiting : 2 visits/week until resolved
- Constipation and/or hemorrhoids
- Urinary discomfort or chronic UTIs
- Headaches and migraines
- Anxiety and depression
There tends to be less of a need for regular acupuncture in the 2nd trimester, unless there is a specific issue, such as pain, fatigue, migraines, insomnia, UTIs, sinus congestion, or a more complex medical diagnosis, such as essential hypertension or preeclampsia.
In the 3rd trimester, people often seek acupuncture treatment for pain, insomnia, anxiety, heartburn, headaches, fatigue, and general discomfort.
- Breech presentation : 2 visits/week from weeks 33-35 for moxibustion
- GERD / acid reflux / heartburn
- Musculoskeletal pain including neck, back, sciatic-type, or rib pain
- Leg cramps
- Headaches and migraines
- Sinus congestion
Note : acupuncturists do not “turn babies”; we treat only the mother, to optimize her qi and internal landscape, and support her wellbeing.
- Weekly visits for weeks 36-39
- Biweekly visits for week 40-41
- If past 40 weeks with a medical induction scheduled, plan for acupuncture treatment every other day up until the induction to reduce the rate of medical induction by 57%.
Note : acupuncturists do not “induce” or otherwise initiate labor. This is not within our scope of practice, and we do not practice with the intention of “induction.” Rather, we provide support for the pregnant person’s wellbeing and comfort, with the intention of supporting the smooth flow of qi and blood, as is within our scope of practice. In addition, the vast majority of acupuncturists are not able to treat pregnant people once labor has started due to insurance restrictions.
- Perineal pain, incision pain
- Breast discomfort
- Issues with lactation, mastitis
- Baby blues, postnatal depression
A little planning goes a long way
If you think you might want acupuncture throughout pregnancy, or in preparation for labor and delivery, it will make your life *so much easier* later if you identify a practitioner and anticipate the appointment scheduling (and expense) ahead of time, rather than trying to work it in as a hail mary pass after your due date. Randomized control trials have shown that 3-5 acupuncture treatments after 37 weeks shorten labor time (Kubista & Kucera), while acupuncture every other day after a due date reduces rate of medical induction by 57% (Rabl).
We keep things simple + safe
There are several acupuncture points that are traditionally avoided during pregnancy, as they are considered too moving or downward-bearing: GB21, LI4, LV14, SP6, UB60, UB67, any points on the lumbo-sacral area, any points on the lower abdomen (1st trimester), and any points on the upper and lower abdomen (2nd and 3rd trimesters). These points are avoided by most acupuncturists (including me) when working with pregnant patients, even in the absence of evidence that they cause adverse reactions. In addition, I use fewer, thinner needles, with lighter or no stimulation, in keeping with the conventions taught by my teachers. A little acupuncture goes a long way, and I keep treatments simple, using only the most supportive and essential points, alongside points used for lifting and holding.
Once more : Acupuncture is safe for pregnant people
There is no known association between acupuncture treatment and miscarriage, and history of or threatened miscarriage is actually one of the most common chief concerns that brings pregnant people in for treatment. The research shows there is no difference between the general population and pregnant people in the frequency and severity of acupuncture treatment reactions (which includes all treatment reactions, such as bruising, tingling sensation, or lightheadedness). In a systematic review of 2.2 million acupuncture treatments, severe adverse reactions constituted only .1% of *all reported adverse effects*. < For comparison, the over the counter medication acetaminophen caused 43.5/1,000 calls to poison control and 50.2/1,000 ER visits in 2012; the rate of an adverse reaction requiring treatment for acetaminophen, is therefore 9.4%. >
Are you in NYC and curious about receiving acupuncture during or after your pregnancy? Get in touch, anytime, or go ahead and make an appointment here! And : don’t be deterred by what my availability appears to be on my online scheduling system; always call or email for my current availability, as I am more than happy to be flexible and do whatever I can, scheduling-wise, or refer to one of my trusted colleagues.