For thousands of years, acupuncture has been used in relieving many illnesses and diseases. It is based on the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory that the entire body is connected and controlled by the flow of qi, or energy. When there is an imbalance in the body whether through diet, nutrition, lifestyle or every day stressors, the flow of qi can be affected, resulting in symptoms and issues.

Acupuncture uses multiple modalities that include needles, electro-stimulation and non-needle techniques such as acupressure, tui na(TCM massage), moxibustion and even cupping. Depending on the circumstances, a modality is chosen that is most appropriate for the person and their complaints to provide the most powerful relief. In modern times, more investigations and studies are being done to try and understand the benefits of this ancient treatment. As it gains in popularity, acupuncture is becoming common for more doctors to recommend as a pain relief treatment. Though there are many hypotheses on how pain relief occurs, research has shown undeniably that there is some physiological mechanism that contributes to its benefits that links with the brain’s perception of pain. More recently, it is being recommended for pain relief in specific populations, such as pregnancy for common ailments like low back pain, pelvic pain and even pain occurring during labor.

Pregnancy is a time of great change. The body is being flooded with hormones, energy plummets and suddenly the world feels like it balances on our shoulders. Although it is a wonderful miracle, there are many not so miraculous things that can occur. During pregnancy, the hormone relaxin is produced, which is an important hormone that relaxes the ligaments and helps to widen the cervix. This hormone is produced by the ovaries and the placenta; it helps in preparing the body for labor. The downside to this is that, as the pelvis widens and shifts, there can be some aching and soreness in the low back and pelvic area. Some of the most common complaints in pregnancy are of low back aches, pelvic pain and even tail-bone pain, which all tend to be a result of this natural phenomenon. This, mixed with the body being thrown out of alignment and off balance by carrying the extra weight of the baby, can also change the center of gravity. As that changes, the body tries to recalibrate by causing extra curvature in the low back; it then creates a new gait when walking. To accommodate our new body, we even shift our weight while sitting by leaning more forward or backward to change where the extra pressure falls on the hips and tailbone. All of these new changes, including new postural changes, contribute to those common aches and pains.

Although acupuncture is well-known for being great to treat pain, there are many other pregnancy ailments that it can relieve. Morning sickness, vomiting or nausea during pregnancy have been shown to get better with acupuncture treatments. Seeing an acupuncturist or naturopathic physician who performs acupuncture can even help provide tools to do acupressure at home in between sessions to give immediate relief when morning sickness symptoms strike. Depression and anxiety symptoms during pregnancy have also been shown in some research to be reduced by doing acupuncture and even acupuncture tui na massage. Regular treatments can increase overall feelings of well-being and relaxation, and decrease the level of severity of feeling depressed and anxious. Issues with sleeping, difficulty falling asleep or waking multiple times in the night can be managed with treatments as well. Headaches are also a very common issue during pregnancy. Hormones, blood-volume changes, nutrient deficiencies, dehydration and even stress can contribute to headaches. Acupuncture is a wonderful tool for finding relief from these common ailments.

The benefits of acupuncture are many. Moxibustion can help turn a baby in the breech position. Specific acupuncture points can help with inducing a delayed labor. During labor, a midwife or doula trained in acupressure can even help provide some relief from discomfort felt during the birthing process. It is important to note that a trained professional be the one providing acupuncture care. There are some acupuncture points that do stimulate uterine contractions; they should be avoided in early and mid-stage pregnancy, and only be used for helping to induce labor. Some common and general risks include mild soreness or small bruising afterward. When choosing someone for acupuncture, it is important to look for a licensed acupuncturist with the NCCAOM or a naturopathic doctor with acupuncture experience working with pregnant women. It is also important to discuss these treatment considerations with the obstetrician or midwife to make sure that there is no medical reason to not receive these treatments. In general, acupuncture is considered safe; it is a powerful tool in helping with a happy and healthy pregnancy.

Dr. Stephanie Preston, ND, is a licensed naturopathic doctor with a masters in acupuncture; she is currently finishing her masters in Chinese herbology. Preston specializes in women’s health, specifically prenatal and postpartum care and pediatrics. She works at Revive Wellness Center and the Center for Natural Medicine. Connect at