Acupuncture is the ancient Chinese method of using tiny needles to stimulate specific areas or "meridians" of the body and to rebalance the body's energy, or chi. Because acupuncture is especially effective for chronic conditions, many pregnant women are turning to acupuncture to provide drug-free relief from many of the unpleasant symptoms of pregnancy.
An Australian study showed that women who received acupuncture treatments regularly before their 14th week of pregnancy had less nausea and shorter bouts of morning sickness than women who did not receive the treatment. Acupuncture has also been used to treat the more serious condition hyperemesis gravidarum, which causes serious vomiting that persists throughout pregnancy.
During the second trimester, acupuncture has been used to successfully treat heartburn and hemorrhoids. In the third trimester, acupuncture can provide relief from sciatica, joint pain and carpal tunnel syndrome, which many women develop late in pregnancy. Acupuncture has even been used to relieve pain during labor and delivery.
Pregnant women seeking to use acupuncture to treat conditions developed during pregnancy should be sure to visit a licensed and experienced acupuncturist. For example, although acupuncture can be used to treat edema, or swelling of the ankles, edema can be an indicator of a serious problem. An acupuncturist experienced in treating pregnant women would be more likely to recognize this problem and refer the patient back to her obstetrician.
The most serious risk of using acupuncture during pregnancy is that it may stimulate labor if it is improperly applied. Choosing an experienced practitioner reduces this risk to almost negligible levels. In fact, many women have turned to acupuncture to purposefully stimulate labor when their baby is overdue. Some women have found that labor induced by acupuncture is gentler than labor induced by drugs such as Pitocin.
In addition to benefits during pregnancy, labor and delivery, acupuncture has been used to promote fertility and to treat infertility. In a small German study, women who used acupuncture in conjunction with in vitro fertilization had a 42.5% success rate compared to 26.3% in women who used in vitro fertilization alone. Fertility specialists attribute this to the overall improvement of health that comes from receiving regular acupuncture treatments.
Finally, acupuncture may have some benefits in treating post-partum depression. Although no research has been done to support the efficacy of acupuncture treatments on post-partum depression, anecdotal evidence shows that some women do benefit from its use. Because acupuncture does not cause harmful drug interactions, it can be a useful complimentary therapy.