Benefits of acupuncture in pregnancy

While not a replacement for the more conventional methods of healthcare here in the UK, alternative therapies can offer pregnant women access to methods of relief for some of the more unpleasant physical effects of pregnancy. In this article we look at how pregnant women can make use of and benefit from acupuncture. It is important to note, however, that the scientific evidence for many of these uses of acupuncture remains inconclusive, despite claims from acupuncturists and acupuncture associations like the British Acupuncture Council regarding their effectiveness.

Using acupuncture during pregnancy

Acupuncture is touted as an effective method of pain relief during pregnancy. Many pregnant women suffer from issues like chronic back and pelvic pain, particularly into the third trimester where the size and weight of the baby can place undue stress on the lower back.  Pregnant women can also suffer from headaches and migraines quite frequently.

Acupuncture has been suggested as an effective method of treating these pains, and in the case of lower back pain at least, has been proven effective. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) has recommended acupuncture as a means by which to manage chronic lower back pain, this is in fact, thus far, the only NICE recommended use of acupuncture in the UK.

Morning sickness, a bout of nausea and vomiting affecting pregnant women during the first, and sometimes early part of the second, trimester might benefit from acupuncture treatment. Morning sickness is perfectly normal, but it can be a nuisance, particularly as it is seldom restricted to the earlier hours of the day despite its title. Acupuncture has proven to be successful in the management of nausea, particularly post-operative nausea, and it is therefore not unlikely that it has some genuine benefits in remedying morning sickness.

Acupuncture is also touted as having positive effects on other common afflictions of pregnancy like tiredness, anxiety, tenderness in the breasts, and varicose veins. While these are claims are not supported by scientific evidence to date, acupuncture is sometimes an effective remedy for pregnant women suffering from these ailments. Whether this is because of a genuine effect exerted by the treatment or because of the placebo effect remains to be determined.

Using acupuncture during childbirth

Acupuncture has two potentially important applications during childbirth, the first is being in the induction of labour, while the second is to do with breech births and correcting the position of the unborn foetus.

Acupuncture is thought to be a method of getting labour started if a mother is overdue. The British Acupuncture Council advises that this method only be applied where a mother has passed her due date, and only if the mum’s doctor (obstetrician) has provided consent. When used to this end acupuncture is thought to be most effective a week or ten days after the treatment is performed, however cases of virtually instant effects have also been reported.

Foetal position is extremely important during birth, and all babies should be born in the healthy head down position which is safest for both mother and child. A baby who is in an abnormal position when labour begins is said to be in breech, and this can lead to a number of complications with potentially dangerous consequences for both mother and child.

A particular technique used in acupuncture that does not in fact rely on needles is suggested to help reposition babies with a success rate of about 80%. This is as reported by the British Acupuncture Council, and again, this technique should only be applied with your doctor’s consent. There are a number of standard medical procedures which can reposition a baby and facilitate a birth, and these might be the more medically safe and relevant options.

If the acupuncture treatment is chosen, an acupuncturist will use a particular technique called moxibustion. This involves burning moxa, a naturally occurring herb, above a specific acupuncture point on the smallest toe. Further research is being conducted to determine the scientific merit of this technique.

While acupuncture may have its uses during pregnancies, it is of the utmost importance that pregnant women take the advice of their doctors and midwives as to whether or not such treatments are used. It is also critical that acupuncture be used to complement rather than replace the standard antenatal care provided by the NHS (or a private provider if one is being used). We are fortunate to have access to a comprehensive antenatal care service here in the UK, and following your midwife/doctor’s instructions and advice is vital to a healthy pregnancy.

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