By Mary Sabo, L.Ac DACM
I often get questions about acupuncture during pregnancy and whether or not it is safe to receive treatments during all three trimesters. In Chinese medical theory, our training teaches us that there are certain acupuncture points and areas of the body that should not be needled during most of the pregnancy. Experienced acupuncturists who are skilled in supporting pregnant women typically can maneuver around these restrictions and are able to support pregnant women safely during their entire pregnancy. Let’s take a look at some common symptoms that can present and be managed with acupuncture at different stages of the pregnancy.
During the first trimester, many uncomfortable symptoms can develop including morning sickness, fatigue, headaches, insomnia, heartburn, constipation, and vomiting. Acupuncture is a useful tool in treating all of these and can be safely performed during this time by an experienced licensed acupuncturist. Some types of miscarriage may be prevented with acupuncture, so acupuncture during this time can be particularly helpful.
The second trimester is typically more comfortable for most women, but aches and pains can pop up. Hip pain, back pain, sciatica, neck and shoulder tension, headaches and sacroiliac joint pain are common as the baby grows and the hormone relaxin causes the ligaments and tendons to loosen. Pain during this time can be managed with acupuncture and is a nice alternative to acetaminophen. Mild cases of gestational diabetes can also be managed along side the dietary changes recommended by your doctor, and placenta previa may be encouraged to shift.
During the third trimester, any of the above symptoms can come back or worsen. As the baby puts more pressure on the pelvis, the muscles in the pelvic floor sometimes become tense or weak and circulation of the lymph slows creating water retention and swelling. Back pain and sciatica are also more likely. Working with an acupuncturist during this time not only helps manage these symptoms, it can also help prepare you for a timely labor and delivery.
If your baby is breech, it is best to start getting regular acupuncture treatments at around week 33. For breech presentation, we use a technique called moxibustion, which is a warming technique applied to specific acupuncture points and has been in use for thousands of years. Recent studies have confirmed that this method safely encourages the baby to turn[i].
As long as you are seeing your OB or midwife regularly for testing and monitoring and following his or her medical advice, incorporating acupuncture into your pregnancy care can improve your quality of life and help create a healthier pregnancy. It is also useful during the post partum time to aid recovery, promote healing, and support lactation.
[i] Vas J, Aranda-Regules JM, Modesto M, Ramos-Monserrat M, Barón M, Aguilar I, Benítez-Parejo N, Ramírez-Carmona C, Rivas-Ruiz F. Using moxibustion in primary healthcare to correct non-vertex presentation: a multicentre randomised controlled trial. Acupunct Med. 2013 Mar;31(1):31-8.