Women in the UK benefit from regular, well-organised antenatal care, with midwives fulfilling a crucial role in screening for potentially dangerous conditions for a pregnant woman and/or her baby.
Where there might be a gap in healthcare, however, is for so-called “minor ailments” of pregnancy. These are not life-threatening conditions that are expected to resolve after the birth, and therefore warrant somewhat less attention from the antenatal team – although they can sometimes have a significant impact on a woman’s life.
For most pregnancy ailments, from morning sickness to birth induction, acupuncture can be a safe and effective treatment with no side-effects for the woman or the baby.
What is acupuncture used for in pregnancy?
Pain in the lower back, sciatica, symphysis pubis pain are all very common during pregnancy, as are neck pain, rib pain and carpal tunnel syndrome. Gentle movement is usually useful – as a general rule, women are recommended to carry on with any exercise they were doing before getting pregnant (avoiding anything where there is a risk of falls). If this doesn’t help, all of the above conditions can be treated effectively – sometimes a single treatment may relieve the pain considerably, other times regular treatment throughout the pregnancy is needed.
Nausea (morning sickness), vomiting, heartburn
Severe morning sickness can be a debilitating experience in early pregnancy. Rest and relaxation often improve the situation, as well as eating regular snacks such as fruit or crackers. It is important for the woman to stay well-hydrated, and drinking small sips of water throughout the day may be useful for this. Acupuncture can be used to significantly relieve both nausea and heartburn and also to reduce vomiting.
Changing hormone levels during pregnancy may have an effect on various body parts: for example the mucous membranes around the nose, leading to sinusitis, the digestive system, leading to constipation, the skin, leading to severe itching (though this may also be caused by other factors, please check with your midwife). Acupuncture may be used without side-effects to alleviate all these symptoms.
Acupuncture and childbirth
Acupuncture has been used for centuries in the East to prepare women for labour and promote a smooth birth. These are some of the ways in which it can help:
Turning a breech baby
Ideally around week 35, though later treatments can still be successful. This is a simple procedure done using moxa sticks (provided). A single treatment is needed, with the woman doing follow-up treatments by herself every day for another 9 days.
Birth preparation treatments
Birth preparation treatments may be used weekly from week 37 onwards to help promote a safe and natural labour.
Induction (from the due date onwards) & promotion of labour
Acupuncture can be used for either inducing labour or for promoting it when it is not progressing as planned. If the labour doesn’t start after a first induction treatment, it is possible to do a second one a couple of days later. After that, even if the labour doesn’t start naturally and a medical induction is needed, the acupuncture induction treatments have been shown to lead to easier births which overall needed less medical intervention.