How to safely and effectively use acupuncture while you are pregnant.
It’s fairly well-known these days that acupuncture can help couples who are trying to conceive a child. When a patient calls or comes by to give me the happy news that she and her partner are pregant, often she’ll ask me, “So what do we do now?” Unless she has experienced a number of early miscarriages (before 12 weeks) or is at high risk for miscarriage, my answer is to recommend regular pre-natal massages, pre-natal yoga and a high-quality pre-natal vitamin, but no acupuncture unless she develops morning sickness, sciatica, back or hip pain, headaches that don’t respond to Tylenol or a bad cold.
I do, however, explain what acupuncture has to offer her when she enters the third trimester of pregnancy:
- Acupuncture as a pre-birth treatment: In her book Acupuncture in Pregnancy & Childbirth, New Zealand acupuncturist Debra Betts writes that “Research has demonstrated that the mean duration of labour in a group of women giving birth for the first time was reduced from eight hours and two minutes in the control group (70 women) to six hours and 36 minutes in the group of 70 women who had received prebirth acupuncture.” In my own experience and that of my patients who receive weekly acupuncture treatments in the last 6-8 weeks of pregnancy it does seem that labor moves along more quickly and efficiently than expected. Acupuncture in late pregnancy can also: reduce pain and discomfort, trigger a release of endorphins (feel-good, pain-killing chemicals in the body) and trigger the body’s relaxation response, calming a woman’s very normal anxiety about the impending birth.
- Acupuncture for Labor Induction: Many pregnancies, especially first-time pregnancies, go longer than 40 weeks. With a resurgent interest in natural childbirth, most of my patients are worried that the doctor will want to medically induce labor and some of them call me around week 39 or 40 wondering if I can help them “get things moving”. Again, Betts’ book cites research showing that acupuncture at specific points on the ankle and hand did seem to support cervical ripening and “shorten the time interval between the woman’s expected due date and the actual time of delivery”. For a woman who calls looking for acupuncture labor induction before her due date, I offer acupuncture as pre-birth treatment instead. Once her due date has passed we switch to the labor induction protocol.
- Moxibustion to Turn a Breech Baby: Moxibustion is a technique used widely in Chinese medicine to warm and stimulate an acupuncture point without a needle. Mugwort (Artemesia Vulgaris) is processed and formed into charcoal-like sticks. One end is lit until it glows like a cigar and then held near (not on) a point at the outer corner of the nail on the patient’s baby toe, for 20 minutes. I teach the patient how to perform this technique at home and recommend that she warm this point on each side once a day for ten days. Betts asserts that this technique is most successful when used at 34 weeks when the baby still has room to maneuver. Unfortunately, most women don’t come in for treatment until 38 or 39 weeks when their babies may have a harder time changing position and the technique is generally less successful.
When performed by a skilled, licensed professional, acupuncture is perfectly safe during pregnancy and can fill in for medications that are harmful to the baby. For a free consult with Julie Permut, LAc please call 603-924-6624. To book an appointment for treatment, click here.
- Betts, Debra. The Essential Guide to Acupuncture in Pregnancy & Childbirth. East Sussex, England: The Journal of Chinese Medicine Ltd., 2006.
- Kubista E, Kucera H (1974). “Uber die Anwendung der Akupunktur zur Geburtsvorbereitung”, Geburtsshilfe Perinatol: 178, 224-9.
- Rabl M, Ahner R, Bitschnau M, Zeisler H, Husslein P (2001). “Acupuncture for cervical ripening and induction of labour at term – a randomised controlled trial”, Wien Klin Wochenschr 113(23-24):942-6.