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Acupuncture for Pregnancy and Birth

The changes of pregnancy can bring a variety of problems at a time when women feel it is important to support their health and options of medication are limited.

Acupuncture treatment in pregnancy follows the Traditional Chinese Medical approach of using signs, symptoms, medical history and examination of the tongue and pulse to form a diagnosis and make an appropriate selection on acupuncture points. In addition the use of acupuncture in pregnancy and birth in recent years has led to clinical experience of the efficacy of certain points for particular problems in pregnancy.

Traditional acupuncture can be used safely in pregnancy and is becoming more used in ante-natal care. There are maternity acupuncture clinics at four NHS hospitals: The Whittington in London, West Middlesex, Warwick and Gilbert Bain in Shetland.

Acupuncture may be of benefit in a wide range of problems in pregnancy, such as morning sickness, headaches, tiredness, anxiety and depression, back pain, constipation and pelvic girdle pain.

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Particular uses of acupuncture in pregnancy

Moxibustion for Breech Presentation

An adjunct technique to acupuncture called moxibustion has been used for many centuries to turn breech babies. Moxibustion has been shown to reduce the need for cephalic version(*1) – manual turning of the baby’s position – and this technique is offered in some NHS maternity acupuncture clinics. Only one appointment is needed and then the treatment can be performed by the partner or friend (or by yourself) at home over 10 days.

Birth Preparation

A series of weekly acupuncture treatments from 37 or 38 weeks to help prepare the mother for labour have been shown to reduce the length of labour and the incidence of induction, epidural and emergency caesareans.(*2)  Midwives who use pre-birth acupuncture report that it consistently increases the occurrence of a natural, efficient labour and have commented that the time spent in labour and the necessity of interventions such as medical induction and caesarean section is reduced in women who receive a series of pre-birth treatments.(*3)

Encouraging Labour

Acupuncture has been shown to support cervical ripening and shorten the time between the expected and actual delivery dates.(*4) There is anecdotal evidence(*5) that it can stimulate contractions. The woman and her birthing partner can also use acupressure on the points used, after the treatment. A series of weekly acupuncture treatments from 36 or 37 weeks (as above) is preferable to, waiting until right before a medical induction is due, though it may still be worth trying acupuncture in this case.

*1 Cardini F, Weixin H (1998) Moxibustion for correction of breech presentation; Journal of the American Medical Association 280:1580-1584
*2 Betts D., Lennox S., Acupuncture for Pre-Birth Treatment: An observational Study of its Use in Midwifery Practice; Medical Acupuncture 2006 May; 17  (3): 17-20
*3 Betts, D., The Use of Acupuncture as a Routine Pre-Birth Treatment; Journal of Chinese Medicine 2004 October; 76: 7-8
*4 Rabl M, Ahner R, Bitschnau M, Zeiseler H, Husslein P (2001) Acupuncture for cervical ripening and induction of labour at term – a randomised controlled trial Wien Klin Wichenschr: 113 (23-24): 942-6

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