What does acupuncture do?

There has been a significant rise in the popularity of acupuncture for pain conditions in pregnancy, where drug-free options are important. Acupuncture is used to maintain or restore health with the use very fine needles inserted at certain points along channels on the body, called meridians.

Acupuncture theory explains disease and physiological function based on the concepts of Qi (pronounced Chee), Yin and Yang and the Five Elements (Earth, Wood, Water, Fire and Metal). In Western concepts acupuncture has been shown through imaging to work on the nervous, fascial and neuro-hormonal systems. There is a lot of high quality research that supports the use of acupuncture during pregnancy and has been demonstrated to be effective and safe.

The physical and hormonal changes during pregnancy can exacerbate existing conditions, and new conditions or complaints may arise in pregnancy. These may range from causing mild discomfort to debilitating pain. Acupuncture is a safe and effective evidence-based therapy for managing common conditions of pregnancy, such as back and pelvic pain, nausea and vomiting, anxiety and depression, as well as breech presentation (where the baby is not in the correct position – head down – ready for birth). It is also an effective tool for labour support, and assists with such things as cervical ripening, labour preparation, pain relief during labour and supporting a positive birth experience.

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What is acupressure?

Acupressure uses the same points and channel systems as acupuncture, but specific points along the body are stimulated with pressure from fingers or thumbs. Similarly, ear seeds can be used for the small acupuncture points on the ear, and/or press buttons can be used to apply continued pressure on points for nausea during pregnancy or for use in labour.

Acupressure is a safe and effective evidence-based therapy for managing common conditions of pregnancy, such as nausea, back pain, pelvic girdle pain, and for labour preparation and management of labour pain and duration.

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Is acupuncture and acupressure safe in pregnancy?

Research in this area is reassuring that there are no reported increased rates of adverse events when treating pregnancy related conditions with acupuncture. It is recommended that acupuncture practitioners avoid using ‘forbidden points’ during pregnancy – these are a small group of points used for cervical ripening, and should not be used before 37 weeks of pregnancy (Levett, Betts 2019). It is recommended that you consult a licenced acupuncturist for treatment. This may be especially relevant for women who have a history of premature labour or any cervix issues.

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💡 What are some conditions or complaints of pregnancy that acupuncture can assist with?

Back, hip, and pelvic pain in pregnancy

Many women experience back and pelvic pain during pregnancy. Acupuncture has been shown to reduce back and pelvic pain during this time.

  • In pregnancy, changes in hormones allow the ligaments and muscles of the body to soften, allowing for growth and birth. This along with changes in weight distribution contribute to back and pelvic pain in many people. Back and pelvic pain are the commonest reported conditions in pregnancy, often impacting daily routines and the capacity to work. Acupuncture has been shown to be effective for reducing back and pelvic pain during pregnancy in many studies. Research shows that acupuncture decreases pain scores, reduces the use of pain medication and improves physical functioning for women during pregnancy.

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Nausea and vomiting

Up to 80% of pregnant women and people experience nausea and/or vomiting in pregnancy, which can impact social functioning, mood and their ability to work. A severe form of nausea called Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) affects around 1% of pregnancies. Those with HG aren’t able to keep down food or liquids. They can become severely dehydrated due to frequent vomiting and can lose 5% or more of their pre-pregnancy weight. They often need hospitalization as this can be a truly debilitating and dangerous condition.

For both typical nausea and vomiting in pregnancy as well as HG, there is no one medical treatment that provides significant relief, so it is important to explore alternative therapies that are safe and effective.

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Is it effective?

  • While we need more research studies to make definitive conclusions, the studies we do have show that acupuncture and acupressure may be able to help. The information we have on the safety of acupuncture early in pregnancy is very reassuring, so those who are unable or unwilling to take medication can feel good about trying it as an alternative.

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Mental health – anxiety and depression in pregnancy


Anxiety can have a significant negative impact on you during your pregnancy as well as on the fetus. Learn how acupuncture can help you reduce your anxiety:

  • Fear of miscarriage, the loss of the ability to function normally, challenges to self-care (rest, nutrition, exercice), worry over losing control over your body or your life, unexpressed emotions, a lack of social support for authentic emotional experience, fear of judgment, anxiety due to relationship issues or genetic & screening tests, loss of previous identity, fear of labor and birth, and the list can go on. The announcement of a pregnancy often comes with mixed emotions, and people can often feel quite vulnerable and can experience symptoms of anxiety, along with the often-subtle pressure to be a ‘super pregnant mother’.

How many acupuncture treatments do you need to help manage anxiety?

This is such a great question!

  • A lot of people feel relaxed and less anxious after one acupuncture treatment. To make that feeling last, however, multiple treatments may be needed. Acupuncture is cumulative. This means that after each treatment, the goal is for you to feel a little bit better, for a little longer, until you get to a place where you can manage your stress better and the treatments can be spaced out.

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Acupuncture can alleviate post-natal depression, depression during pregnancy and symptoms related to depression. Learn more:

  • Depression is one of the most common conditions in pregnancy, with 37% of pregnant people reporting symptoms of depression and 12.7% meeting the definition of medically diagnosable depression. Depression can have a significant negative impact on the mother and the fetus, including high blood pressure, diabetes, preeclampsia, preterm birth and C-section.
  • Acupuncture has been found to be a safe and effective method to treat and manage depression both in the general population and in pregnancy. Acupuncture can be used as a stand-alone treatment, in conjunction with medical treatment and can also help in reducing the side effects of antidepressant medications.
  • Research shows acupuncture works by regulating the nervous system and helps with hormonal regulation which assists with mood and sleep, among other things).
  • If you experience mood swings, loss of appetite, loss of interest, marked sleep disturbance or obsessive thinking, do not hesitate to seek medical help and for adjunct treatment contact a qualified acupuncturist.

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Breech or mal-presentation

Acupuncture & moxibustion (warming point therapy) at 34 weeks can correct breech presentation (bottom-first position) in preparation for labour. Learn more:

  • Moxibustion (moxa) is the warming of acupuncture points or areas of the body with a lit ‘cigar’ made of the herb Artemisia vulgaris. Traditionally, moxa is applied to a point on the side of the little toenail to help move babies to optimal position in preparation for labour (head down position). Moxa combined with acupuncture from 33 weeks has a higher success rate than using moxa alone for the treatment for breech presentation (feet or bottom first) and avoid C-sectionYou and your support persons will also be shown how to apply moxa and asked to use it daily at home over 10 days.
  • [When moxa was applied between 34-37 weeks followed by an external cephalic version (ECV – manual turning procedure), which are each individually about 50% effective, the effectiveness was increased to 65%]

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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Did you know acupuncture can reduce (if not eliminate) pain, numbness, weakness, and tingling in the wrist and fingers?

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when a combination of health conditions and activities puts pressure on the median nerve as it passes through the carpal tunnel in your wrist. Anything that decreases the amount of space in the carpal tunnel, increases the amount of tissue in the tunnel, or increases the sensitivity of the median nerve can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • The swelling that is common in pregnancy can crowd structures in the tunnel and lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, especially when combined with forceful or repetitive hand and finger movement or the use of vibrating equipment. It is usually a temporary condition and symptoms resolve after the pregnancy.

While pregnant, to help, you can:

  • Use acupuncture or acupressure to assist with reduction of swelling and pain associated with carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Change or avoid activities that may be causing symptoms, and take frequent breaks from repetitive tasks.
  • Wear a wrist splint to keep your wrist straight, usually just at night.
  • Do exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles in the hand and arm.

…and do acupuncture!

There’s actually quite a bit of research on acupuncture for wrist pain:

  • Acupuncture is an effective treatment modality for patients with carpal tunnel syndrome. Independent investigations confirm that acupuncture is more effective than usual care, including anti-inflammatory medications.
  • Acupuncture successfully alleviates pain, inflammation, numbness, and restores motor dexterity. Electromyography confirms the results, including improvements across multiple parameters (e.g., median nerve sensory latency, sensory nerve conduction velocity, sensory amplitude, motor latency, motor nerve conduction velocity, and motor amplitude).

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Heartburn / reflux

Heartburn, also called acid reflux, is very common in pregnancy. It can be caused by hormonal changes and the growing baby pressing against your stomach. A study of acupuncture suggests that acupuncture can provide relief of heartburn symptoms, reduce medications, increase the ability to eat and improve sleep.

You can reduce heartburn by making changes to your diet and lifestyle, and by adding acupuncture to your treatment, which is a safe and effective way to alleviate your symptoms.

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Good sleep is especially important during pregnancy. Acupuncture is a safe, drug-free treatment for insomnia during pregnancy. Learn more:

  • Getting enough sleep is very important, but it is even more so in pregnancy because it’s been linked with complications, such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, depression, preterm birth and C-section delivery. Acupuncture provides a drug-free alternative for the treatment of insomnia in pregnancy. It has been shown to raise melatonin levels in the body, and patients report that after receiving acupuncture treatments it is easier to get to sleep, stay asleep, and that night-time waking is lessened.  Acupuncture can also be useful to treat many of the conditions that may be contributing to your insomnia, such as heartburn, pain and discomfort.

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What it can support:

Using techniques, like acupressure, massage, breathing, upright positions and relaxation, will help with pain relief, coping strategies, and labour progress, and can help to avoid the cascade of medical interventions. These techniques will help you to maximise your body’s own amazing hormones to: keep labour going; pain relief; bonding and attachment; and the experience of having had an epidural!

Acupressure can be used by partners and birth workers safely and effectively to support labour and birth.

Labour preparation/cervical ripening, pain management and labour support:

  • Research suggests that acupressure and moderate pressure massage techniques help to activate hormones, such as oxytocin and beta-endorphins. This helps with cervical ripening to help prepare the body for labour and during birth. Birth partners can be taught acupressure for preparation for labour from about 37 weeks of pregnancy to help get the hormones ready and activated!
  • During labour, acupressure and acupuncture can assist with labour progress, pain relief and comfort for the mother in labour. Research from China shows that acupressure (at Sp6) works to enhance oxytocin, even when women have had an epidural.
  • High-level Cochrane systematic reviews and research trials have demonstrated that use of acupressure, manual therapies, including massage and yoga, and relaxation techniques are effective for managing pain and coping strategies for labour and birth. Research also suggests that women and partners, as well as healthcare professionals, feel very happy about the use of these techniques and when they knew and understood the benefits of these, they were more likely to apply them in their labour and didn’t feel that they had to rely on medical interventions to help them.

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