I love acupuncture. For myself and for my patients. When I first started out in practice, I worked for several years alongside three wonderful acupuncturists at HealthWise Clinic in Brisbane. This experience opened my eyes to a) the world of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, and b) the benefits of collaborative practice. And it is one of the reasons I eventually began studying acupuncture myself as a complement to my naturopathic practice (am looking forward to jumping back into that course at the start of next year).
This week, I asked my old friend and former Brisbane colleague, Sarah George, to answer some questions on acupuncture in pregnancy. Here’s what she had to say. Enjoy!
People are often concerned about the safety of any treatments during pregnancy. Is acupuncture a safe option?
Acupuncture is a low risk therapy that may assist many women throughout the course of their pregnancy. Acupuncture has been the subject of many clinical trials in pregnancy, and in these trials adverse reactions are rare and minor (eg. occasional bruising or soreness at the needle site). There appears to be no difference in major problems involving birth outcomes for mother or child when acupuncture has been used, as highlighted in this morning sickness study.
It is important when seeking assistance for pregnancy care that you choose a registered acupuncturist with experience in obstetric treatment. Always inform your obstetrician and/or midwifery team that you are having acupuncture treatment. When your medical team are working together, the best results can be achieved in the safest way possible.
How can acupuncture help in pregnancy?
Acupuncture has been used for over 2000 years to support women with gynaecology and obstetric conditions.
In my clinic today I often support women in their first trimester for fatigue and morning sickness. In fact, acupuncture can give excellent relief to women with nausea and/or vomiting. Later in the pregnancy, pelvic pain and back pain are both well treated with acupuncture, often giving quite fast results. Research supports the use of acupuncture for this type of pain so it is definitely worth a try.
In the third trimester, acupuncture is often employed to assist with improving the position of the foetus. We have a particular protocol involving moxibustion therapy (burning the herb Chinese mugwort) to assist in turning a breech baby. This is best done around 33-34 weeks but I have seen results when it was used later in the pregnancy too.
From 36 weeks it’s time to prepare for the birth. Acupuncture has a unique diagnostic system that allows us to assess each woman as an individual and design a treatment to enhance her health to help her to be in the best position for labour. If your due date passes by and you still have a baby on board then we can do an ‘acupuncture induction’. This isn’t similar to a medical induction at all, it is more about assisting a woman’s body to prepare for birth rather than bringing the birth on immediately. In my experience this always works better if treatment was started before the due date. It just takes time to prepare the body for birth. That said, one study found that women who started acupuncture on their due date and had a treatment every 2 days gave birth on average 5 days from their due date whereas those in the control group gave birth on average 9 days later. We’re after good births though, so start that acupuncture earlier if you can.
We can also teach you and your birth partner how to use acupressure for pain relief in labour.
Is there a particular time during her pregnancy that a woman is recommended to have acupuncture?
This is an individual choice for each woman.
If you have had a history of miscarriage or a difficult first trimester (due to morning sickness etc) then I’d have weekly or twice-weekly acupuncture right throughout the first trimester. If all goes well by this stage some women choose to continue their acupuncture care on a monthly basis to check in and keep in balance. Others will pop in for treatment as needed for pelvic pain or reflux.
By the time you are 33 weeks you should know about the positioning of your bub. If your baby is breech, speak to your obstetrician or midwife about acupuncture care, and with their support get straight to your acupuncturist for treatment. A new study shows this does make a difference to birth outcomes.
Then from 36 weeks book a weekly date with your acupuncturist for that pre-birth care leading you all the way to the birth of your new little bub.
Supportive care cannot be overlooked in acupuncture treatment. Your acupuncturist will be able to help you in times of stress or emotional troubles. They will be a constant throughout your pregnancy, offering you space and time to rest and heal. This benefit of acupuncture care cannot be overlooked.
What are some the ways you’ve seen acupuncture prove most beneficial for your patients?
I treat a lot of fertility patients and so I have seen a great many positive pregnancy tests and births of bright eyed little babies that some had thought may never happen.
Throughout the pregnancy, it’s those times when acupuncture has allowed a woman a few days free of nausea in her first trimester and she feels like herself again, or when she has walked into the clinic crippled with pelvic or back pain, unable to sit in a chair and then leaves after her treatment feeling a whole lot better.
And there are all the times I’ve been able to provide a safe place to relax away from other children, husbands and bosses – for the woman to feel really supported and take a good rest while the needles do their work.
Thank you so much, Sarah!
Sarah George practices from a small private clinic in Broadbeach, Qld. Visit her website, or call 07 5526 8632, to find out more.