Acupuncture and Pregnancy

Can acupuncture help my labor?

Have you ever tried acupuncture? Many swear by it, while skeptics and the needle-averse raise their eyebrows. Check out this overview of how pregnant people use acupuncture for labor and birth – and what the research says.

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a form of complementary medicine, or a treatment that falls outside of conventional western medicine, but can be used alongside it. Acupuncture originated in ancient China, and has been used for thousands of years to treat everything from depression to chronic pain.

To treat a patient, a licensed acupuncturist stimulates certain points on the body, usually by inserting a very thin needle. The theory says that by stimulating these points, the acupuncturist encourages the flow of an energy called qi, or chi, along paths through the body called meridians.

How do people use acupuncture during pregnancy and labor?

The list of ailments acupuncturists treat is long enough to be its own article. And while research is incomplete, it looks promising, with many wide-scale studies finding it at least moderately effective in treating pain and nausea. Pregnant people use acupuncture to treat:

·         Morning sickness,

·         Headaches,

·         Insomnia or other sleep-related problems, and

·         Lower back pain.

For labor, acupuncture is used to:

·         Lessen labor pain,

·         Induce, or start, labor, and

·         Augment, or speed up, labor.

What does the research say about acupuncture during labor?

Studies on acupuncture during labor are mixed, and scientists agree that more research is needed. But, an overview of studies that Evidence Based Birth just pulled together found some promising results. Several studies found evidence that acupuncture increases cervical ripening, the process by which the cervix softens and becomes more flexible in preparation for birth. One study found that acupuncture shortens the duration of labor.

To hear about these studies in more detail, check out the video from Evidence Based Birth. []

Is it safe?

The medical consensus on acupuncture is that it’s safe and at least moderately effective – that’s why many insurance companies cover acupuncture to treat pain and nausea. Birth-related acupuncture research also finds no evidence of adverse effects aside from the normal, expected side effects of acupuncture that practitioners are trained to manage. But, research on acupuncture during labor and birth has almost always been conducted on people with low-risk pregnancies.

If you’re interested in exploring acupuncture for your pregnancy-related symptoms or to use during labor, talk to your doctor or midwife. And, talk to your doula! For Your Birth doulas have great recommendations for acupuncturists and other practitioners.