Acupuncture is often used for a range of issues during pregnancy and birth. There, of course, is using acupuncture for fertility issues. While there is growing awareness around the usage of acupuncture for fertility issues, once pregnant, there is less awareness of pregnancy treatment options and of the safety of those options.
During the first trimester most commonly you are treating for morning sickness and in cases for threatened miscarriage (or to aid patients with frequent miscarriage histories). In the second trimester usually little is needed except possibly to maintain strength/energy levels and possible back pain. The third trimester you will be seen commonly, and effectively, for breech position, also for more serious back pain, gestational diabetes, edema and other issues. Then of course the grand finale – labor induction, if necessary. Then there is follow up care afterwards to avoid issues such as post-partum depression, and to aid with insufficient lactation, if necessary, among other issues.
In this article I wanted to discuss briefly potential contraindications for acupuncture during pregnancy. Long story short, in the hands of a licensed acupuncturist there is very little to worry about. While in a linear logic model, if you can aid labor in labor induction treatments, you could potentially create too much movement early on in pregnancy and contribute to a miscarriage. The problem with this logic is you are giving acupuncture lots of power and removing the common logic of the body. It is very hard (nearly impossible) to get the body to do something strongly against its nature with acupuncture. Most point functions are merely recommendations to the body which it can work with or not. This, for example, is some of the complexity of treating auto-immune conditions – i.e. the body is doing the “right” thing, just too much of it and/or at inappropriate times. This is also part of the issue where you can see such differences in clinical results between practitioners and why standardized protocols are functionally against the very grain of Chinese Medicine. Each treatment has to be properly tailored to the individual and if done correctly, it can be very effective – if not, any complications (besides lackluster results) for any condition are quite rare and pregnancy complications would be among these. This, of course, excludes treatment by non licensed acupuncturists who do not have a firm grasp of the underlying Chinese Medical theories and/or have poor training in needling technique.
A researcher from the UK Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine, recently conducted a study looking at the potential implications of using “forbidden points” during pregnancy and potential complications. As most practitioners already know, the answer, according to this researcher is that “given the numerous evidence-based indications for obstetric acupuncture and lack of evidence of harm, risk:benefit assessments will often fall in favour of treatment.” While there is never a reason to tempt fate with incorrect acupuncture points choices, there are often times where the “forbidden points” are useful for certain conditions/issues during pregnancy and can be used without issue.
All things considered pregnancy is a very natural state to the body and women have deep mechanisms which help this process to go as smoothly as possible. These mechanisms are difficult to go against, certainly with modalities like acupuncture that work with the body, not for it (say in the case of many western medications). There is a significant amount of benefit possible from the integration of acupuncture into overall pregnancy care and a nearly insignificant level of risk. It is worthy of deeper exploration clinically to find avenues in which western and eastern options can co-exist and/or complement each other in favor of the mother and child.