Acupuncture in Pregnancy & Childbirth
by Diane Joswick, L.Ac., MSOM.
Pregnancy is an amazing time in a woman's life. Many women report feeling healthier than they have ever felt before; however, the physical growth of the baby and changes in hormone levels can bring about pain, discomfort and a variety of health problems.
Acupuncture and Oriental medicine can provide a safe, effective alternative for many of the health complications that may arise before, during and after pregnancy. A growing number of women are choosing acupuncture to use throughout their pregnancy and as an optional treatment for an overdue or difficult labor.
Planning for a Healthy Baby
Healthy parents produce healthy babies. With acupuncture and Oriental medicine, parents can improve their health to create the most optimal environment for their unborn child. In addition to their ability to strengthen, support, and balance overall health and well-being, acupuncture and Oriental medicine are an effective treatment for regulating menstruation and hormone levels, reducing stress and addressing any pre-existing medical conditions or concerns that a woman may have.
Acupuncture during Pregnancy
Acupuncture and Oriental medicine can play a vital role in the comfort of a pregnant woman. There is strong evidence to support that acupuncture is highly effective at treating some of the most common problems experienced during pregnancy including morning sickness, heartburn, insomnia, water retention and sciatica.
Here is a list of some of the problems that an acupuncturist often treats during pregnancy:
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Edema and Swelling
- Urinary Tract Infection
- Pelvic Pain
- Neck and Back Pain
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Leg Cramps
- Fatigue and Exhaustion
- Anxiety and Depression
Acupuncture for Childbirth
While there are acupuncture points that can provide natural pain relief during labor, acupuncture is more commonly used to induce labor. There are several points that stimulate contractions and influence cervical ripening. There is also an acupuncture point that has been found to turn a breech baby.
Many women feel depleted after the birth experience. Acupuncture and Oriental medicine can help the transition of those first few months after birth to ensure a quick recovery. Postpartum care focuses on the physical, emotional and psychological recovery of the mother from the effects of pregnancy and labor, as well as encouraging breast feeding.
Here are some of the postpartum disorders that can be treated with acupuncture:
- Postpartum Depression
- Insufficient or Excessive Lactation
- Post Operative Healing
- Night Sweats
Safety of Acupuncture During Pregnancy
Acupuncture is safe to use while you are pregnant; however, there are some points that can cause contractions and should NOT be needled during pregnancy or should be used with extreme caution.
Acupuncture Points to Avoid During Pregnancy
- Large Intestine 4
- Spleen 6
- Gallbladder 21
- Points on the sacrum
- Point on the lower abdomen
- Point on the low back
There are also many herbal remedies that are contraindicated during pregnancy. Always err on the side of caution with all herbs and medications while you are expecting.
Study: Acupuncture Point, UB 67, for Turning a Breech Baby
An acupuncture point on the small toe of the foot (Urinary Bladder 67) has been found to effectively revolve fetuses in breech presentation.
In an Italian study, 240 women at 33-35 weeks of gestation carrying a fetus in breech presentation were randomized to receive acupuncture plus moxibustion (an herb used to apply heat to an acupuncture point) or to be assigned to the observation group. At delivery, the proportion of babies that had turned from breech position to vertex (head-down) position was 53.6 % in the group treated with acupuncture while the proportion of babies that had turned from breech position to vertex position in the observation group was 36.7%.
Source: J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2004 Apr;15(4):247-52
Reduce Mom's Chemical Exposures While Pregnant
Pregnancy is a critical time. A mother's chemical exposures can adversely affect her baby in many ways. Talk to your doctor about lifestyle changes that are critical -- stopping smoking, cutting out alcoholic beverages, and eating right. Beyond that, here are some simple, but important steps, you can take to further reduce risks during pregnancy -- and beyond.
- Go organic and eat fresh foods. EWG's Shoppers Guide to Pesticides to determine which fruits and veggies you should always buy organic and those with the least pesticide residue that are ok to buy conventionally grown. Choose milk and meat produced without added growth hormones. Limit canned food, since can linings usually contain the synthetic estrogen called bisphenol A (BPA).
- Drink safer water. It's important for pregnant women to drink plenty of water. Use a reverse osmosis system or carbon filter pitcher to reduce your exposure to impurities such as chlorine, perchlorate and lead. Don't drink bottled water, which costs more and isn't necessarily better. If you're out and about, use a stainless steel, glass or BPA-free plastic reusable container. Mix infant formula with fluoride-free water.
- Eat low-mercury seafood. Choose low-mercury fish such as salmon, tilapia and pollock, rather than high-mercury tuna and swordfish.
- Get your iodine. Switch to iodized salt and talk to your doctor about taking an iodine-containing vitamin. Iodine buffers against chemicals such as perchlorate that can disrupt your thyroid system and pose potential risks for your baby's brain development during pregnancy.
- Choose better body care products. Just because the label says "gentle" or "natural" doesn't mean a product is safe for pregnancy. Look your products up on EWG's CosmeticsDatabase.com. Read the ingredients and avoid triclosan, fragrance and oxybenzone.
- Wash maternity clothes before wearing. Clothing is often coated with chemical treatments in the factory.
- Identify lead sources and avoid them. Test your tap water for lead and avoid any home remodeling if your house was built before 1978, when lead house paint was banned. Dust from sanding old paint is a common source of lead exposure.
- Avoid painting and other chemical-intensive jobs when you are getting your nursery ready.
- Clean greener. Household cleaners, bug killers, pet treatments and air fresheners can contain hazardous chemicals. Check out less toxic alternatives. Some ideas: vinegar in place of bleach, baking soda to scrub your tiles, hydrogen peroxide to remove stains. Use a wet mop/rag and a HEPA-filter vacuum to get rid of dust -- which can contain contaminants. Leave shoes -- and the pollutants they track inside -- at the door.
- Avoid gasoline fumes. Ask for your partner's help to fill the gas tank, or use full service.
- Pick plastics carefully. Some plastics contain toxic chemicals, including BPA and phthalates. Don't reuse single-use containers or microwave food in plastic containers. Avoid PVC by hanging a natural-fabric shower curtain. When remodeling, go with PVC-free flooring and pipes.