The benefits of acupuncture for pregnancy and birth

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Acupuncture is considered a safe and effective therapy during pregnancy and when preparing for birth. Here’s everything you need to know. By Kim Bell

Acupuncture is an ancient therapy that has been used for around 2 500 years. According to the British Acupuncture Council, traditional Chinese philosophy believes our health is dependent on your body’s energy moving in a balanced way through a series of channels beneath your skin. For any number of reasons, this energy can become unbalanced, which can lead to pain and injury. By inserting fine needles, an acupuncturist stimulates your body’s own healing mechanisms and helps restore your natural equilibrium.

Acupuncture is considered a safe, and effective, therapy during pregnancy and when preparing for birth. It is believed to also be a fantastic alternative for those who want to avoid taking medications for minor ailments during pregnancy. However, it is vital that your acupuncturist is knowledgeable regarding acupuncture during pregnancy and is a member of a professional body, such as the Acupuncture Association of the South Africa Society of Physiotherapy.

But, this is more than a natural therapy that has been around for generations, having been the subject of much research and published studies into the benefits.

Jane Lyttleton, clinic director for the Acupuncture Pregnancy Clinic in Australia, shares that acupuncture can be used for the following ailments during pregnancy:

  • Sinusitis
  • Headaches
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue or anaemia
  • Persistent nausea or vomiting
  • Varicose veins (while it may not cure the condition, it can help alleviate the associated discomfort)
  • Haemorrhoids
  • Depression
  • Stress and anxiety (acupuncture can reduce the levels of stress hormones, while bringing about a sense of relaxation.)
  • Pain, including that linked to sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome, leg cramps, rib or pubic bone pain. (While most of these ailments are resolved post-pregnancy, acupuncture can be a drug-free way to alleviate the discomfort.)
  • Skin rashes and itching.

ALSO SEE: Safe homeopathic medicine in pregnancy 

Preparing for labour and birth

Courtney Hill, founder of Window of Heaven Acupuncture & Yoga Inc and a licensed acupuncturist, prenatal and postpartum doula and Reiki master, says the last few weeks before birth are an opportunity to prepare and harmonise your body, and acupuncture is a great way to do this.

According to the Acupuncture Pregnancy Clinic, clinical studies have found that women who undergo acupuncture once a week in the month leading up to the due date tend to have shorter labours, fewer medical inductions and fewer emergency caesareans compared to those who do not have acupuncture. Courtney adds that acupuncture can help optimise your baby’s position and help your baby descend. “Acupuncture can help the cervix dilate, efface, and soften by nourishing the fluids of the body and relaxing tissues and muscles.”

The Acupuncture Pregnancy Clinic has found acupuncture can be beneficial for those who are scheduled for a medical induction, as acupuncture can be used to encourage the start of labour. “This treatment may need to be repeated three days in a row.” However, the British Acupuncture Association recommends that this is only used when you have passed your due date, and with the consent of your doctor.

In addition, your birth partner or doula can learn how to use acupressure points to help assist in pain relief during labour.

Acupuncture has also been proven to be beneficial post-pregnancy to help increase energy levels, promote healing and to help combat baby blues.

ALSO SEE: 15 easy ways to prepare for a natural birth

The Science:

  • According to a study conducted by Adelaide University in Australia, acupuncture has been proven to reduce the symptoms of morning sickness.
  • A report, titles “Acupuncture in the Management of Pain in Labour”, by E Skilnand, found that acupuncture not only reduces the experience of pain in labour, but also has a secondary outcome of a shorter delivery time.
  • Acupuncture has also been proven to reduce pelvic pain during pregnancy, according to research conducted by the Institute for the Health of Women and Children in Sweden.
  • 70% of women responded positively to treatment with acupuncture for depression during pregnancy, according to a Stanford University study.
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