Is acupuncture safe during pregnancy?

Pregnancy is a time where a woman’s body is particularly vulnerable, and special considerations need to be made when engaging any kind of treatment, medical or complementary. One of the main reasons for this is because any action taken on the pregnant body can, and usually will affect, the baby in some way. In this article we look at whether or not acupuncture can be safely performed on pregnant women.

Acupuncture during pregnancy

Acupuncture is purported to be an effective method of managing a number of conditions, including pain, a major concern for pregnant women. While the evidence supporting many of acupuncture’s claims remains controversial, there are areas in which the treatment has proven effective, and these can benefit pregnant women.

Acupuncture is a system based on an ancient Chinese philosophy regarding life energy, called Qi, which was thought to be responsible for good health, provided its flow through designated channels in the body remained uninterrupted. The application of needles to certain points in the body was thought to restore the flow of Qi, overcoming obstructions responsible for pain, discomfort, and many other diseases. A more modern interpretation of acupuncture has been that the process of needling can stimulate nerves and muscles, causing the former to release natural pain relieving neurotransmitters and the latter to relax in a manner that alleviates pain.

Acupuncture is employed during pregnancy to achieve various ends. Pregnancy involves many unpleasant physical side effects as the body commits itself to sustaining and developing a new life, some of these can benefit from acupuncture:

  • Morning sickness (the nausea and vomiting typical of the first trimester of pregnancy)
  • Headaches
  • Constipation
  • Blood pressure
  • Pelvic and back pain
  • Varicose veins
  • Turning breech babies (breech babies are those born in a feet first position, posing a risk to both mother and child’s health)
  • Inducing labour   

It is important to note that the evidence for the effectiveness of these procedures varies, and to date the medical community has only agreed to the effectiveness of acupuncture in the relief of back pain and nausea.

Is acupuncture safe during pregnancy?

The safety of acupuncture during pregnancy is obviously a major concern, and investigations have been performed into whether or not acupuncture can pose a health risk to either mother or child. To date the evidence has shown acupuncture to be a safe practice during pregnancy, however pregnant women are advised to inform their acupuncturists of their condition, as some acupuncture points should be avoided during treatments.

Where effective, acupuncture can be an effective method of alleviating some of the less pleasant effects of pregnancy. Particularly as many mothers will want to avoid taking any medication to manage these symptoms. Every medication ingested by a mother will enter her blood stream, and through that, enter the baby’s body. Acupuncture can offer an alternative to many pregnant women that is invaluable.

That being said it is important to remember that acupuncture does not provide an alternative to medical care, or in this context, what is often dubbed as Western medicine. There are many aspects to caring for a pregnancy, and if pregnant and making use of acupuncture, you should make sure you are still attending all the necessary medical appointments and receiving all the doctor and nurse recommended and prescribed treatments. You should also make sure that your midwife and/or doctor are aware that you are receiving acupuncture.

Finding a safe acupuncturist

Almost all adverse events reported as a consequence of acupuncture stem from treatment being provided from an inadequately trained acupuncturist. This has proven true across the world, and makes finding a trained and qualified acupuncturist a priority for any pregnant woman looking to pursue acupuncture for the discomforts of pregnancy.

One of the simplest and most effective way of determining whether or not an acupuncturist is safe is to find out if they are registered with a professional organisation or body like the British Acupuncture Council (often shortened to the BAcC). While there is no statutory registration necessary here in the UK, which means that acupuncturists are not legally required to join an independent authority, voluntary registration has the distinct benefit of offering individuals a means of demonstrating their qualifications, experience, and standards of practice. This is because in order to become a member of organisations like the BAcC, an acupuncturist needs to have met certain standards of practice and qualification.

Looking for an acupuncturist through the BAcC site (or the website of a similar acupuncturist organisation) is a great way of finding an acupuncturist with the experience and skills needed to deliver a safe and reliable treatment.

« Infection risk with acupuncture Benefits of acupuncture in pregnancy »