From the first trimester to the day you deliver, acupuncture can safely and effectively help you and your baby achieve a healthier pregnancy, naturally.
I’ve been asked many times if acupuncture and other Oriental Medicine modalities are safe during pregnancy. From my experience as a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, acupuncture is one of the safest ways to effectively address health concerns for expecting mothers.
After a thorough search, I found studies that presented findings on the safety of acupuncture, specifically during pregnancy, and overall. I want women to make an informed decision when it comes to their health care, so take these studies into account when deciding if acupuncture during pregnancy is right for you.
Study one: The safety of acupuncture during pregnancy: a systematic review
A 2014 study published in the Acupuncture in Medicine Journal concluded that using acupuncture during pregnancy to treat health concerns is safe.
The authors rigorously reviewed studies that observed the frequency and severity of negative side effects in 2,460 pregnant women receiving acupuncture treatments for pregnancy related conditions.
Patients in the studies mostly received treatment for low back pain, pelvic pain, and fetal malposition. Other conditions being treated included nausea and vomiting, tension-type headache, depression, dyspepsia, insomnia, emotional complaints, lateral epicondylitis, back pain, sciatica, rib flare and symphysis pubis dysfunction.
Each patient received between 2-40 treatments, resulting in a total of 22,283 acupuncture treatments. They found the frequency of negative side effects from treatments to be 1.3%. All side effects were reported as mild or moderate, with needling pain and localized bleeding being the most frequent.
The study summed up their findings as follows.
…[T]his systematic review found that adverse effects (AEs) associated with acupuncture during pregnancy are generally mild, and serious AEs are rare. The present findings should be given to pregnant women together with effectiveness data so that they can make an informed decision.
Study Two: Safety of acupuncture: results of a prospective observational study with 229,230 patients
The purpose of the study was to evaluate the safety of acupuncture in a large number of patients receiving conventional health care.
Conducted at Charité University Medical Center in Berlin, Germany in 2009, this study observed 229,230 patients complaining of chronic osteoarthritis pain of the knee or hip, low back pain, neck pain, headache, allergic rhinitis, asthma, or dysmenorrhoea. Each patient received an average of 10 treatments, totaling more than 2.2 million treatments. The study observed that 8.6% of patients reported negative side effects. The most common being bleeding, bruising, or pain at the needle site. Only 0.0008% reported serious negative side effects. There were no associated deaths or permanent injuries reported.
At first glance, 8.6% felt relatively high compared to the majority of studies I’ve read. When I looked further into the details, I found some interesting facts that could explain why.
First, a percentage of the negative side effects observed were due to negligence and improper training by the physician and hospital staff, such as forgetting to remove needles after a treatment and damaged needles.
Second, a limitation of this study is the fact that it relied on direct patient reports only. Patients were asked to determine what negative side effects they felt correlated with the acupuncture treatments. Their reports were never confirmed to be in fact caused by the treatment.
Even with these limitations, the study’s conclusion was positive.
In conclusion if you experience discomfort or have health issues during pregnancy, such as morning sickness, discomfort, fetal malposition, and more, I recommend you consider acupuncture a safe option. When performed by a properly trained, licensed Doctor of Oriental Medicine, especially one who specializes in treating pregnant women, there is little to no risk to mother or baby.
Any adverse effects are generally mild, localized, and quickly remedied before leaving the office.
It’s understandable to not want to harm your baby by taking drugs or other invasive treatments. Fortunately, options exist to solve health concerns without the risks associated with these treatments.