The Use of Acupuncture During Pregnancy

By Jessica Carfagnini, ND of Thunder Bay Naturopathic Clinic

During pregnancy women are often looking for effective ways to treat a variety of conditions in a safe manner. Since a great number of drugs are not safe to use during pregnancy many women consider other healing modalities, such as acupuncture, to relieve common conditions. Although there are certain acupuncture points that are not safe during pregnancy, a trained Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or Naturopathic Doctor (ND) has the skills and knowledge to needle safely and effectively.

Traditional Chinese medicine is the oldest and most widely used system of medicine in the world. It has been catching on in the Western world due to its effectiveness in successfully treating a wide variety of illnesses and imbalances.

Women who are pregnant may seek acupuncture for rashes, sinusitis, urinary tract infections and other common conditions. Sometimes it’s as simple as needling a few points to gain some relief. For example, itchy rashes are considered a sign of “heat” in the body that can be released by administering as few as 6 acupuncture needles to specific points on the arms, back, ears and legs. Many acupuncture treatments do not even require that the patient remove their clothing. Simply wearing loose comfortable clothing that can be rolled up to the elbows and knees can provide access to some very powerful points.

In other circumstances several acupuncture treatments may be recommended along with an herbal prescription. For example, exhaustion, anxiety, depression or insomnia can be treated effectively with weekly acupuncture treatments and a prescription of herbs that are safe during pregnancy. Regardless of which condition you seek to resolve through acupuncture and herbs, make sure that you are transparent with each of your health care providers so that they are all aware of the treatments you are receiving.

Increasing numbers of women are seeking acupuncture to help them manage the possible side effects of pregnancy such as fatigue, constipation, nausea, vomiting and heartburn. In her book “Acupuncture and Pregnancy” Debra Betts shares a case of woman, pregnant with twins who was extremely nauseous and unable to keep any food down. Her nausea decreased considerably after a single acupuncture treatment and the vomiting stopped altogether. After two more acupuncture treatments the nausea also disappeared. You may be familiar with the “seasickness band” sold in some drugstores to help relieve nausea. This is an elastic wristband that stimulates a specific acupuncture point approximately 2 inches up from the wrist crease. Your TCM doctor or ND can help you locate exactly where the band must be placed in order to achieve the maximum effect to relieve nausea and morning sickness.

Acupuncture as a routine pre-birth treatment is used by midwives in German hospitals and is increasingly popular here in North America.  Research and clinical observation has shown that pre-birth acupuncture treatments can lead to a shorter labour and reduce the rate of medical intervention (1). Pre-birth acupuncture usually begins at week 36 or 37, with weekly acupuncture treatments that include approximately 6 -10 needles. These points help the cervix to ripen, the ligaments to relax and the baby to descend in preparation for a healthy and efficient labour. If the baby’s position is breech, posterior or too high your practitioner may add in specific points to encourage the baby to move toward an optimal position.

As the due date approaches, labour can be induced gradually and gently with the help of specific acupuncture protocols that help “Qi to descend” and prepare the mother physically and emotionally for the marathon of childbirth. “Qi” is the Chinese term for “energy” and many acupuncture points “move Qi” in specific ways.

Finally, be sure to ask your ND or TCM doctor about points to stimulate using acupressure that will help during the actual birth of your baby. Your partner, friend or doula can easily learn how to administer pressure to these points and help your labour progress as smoothly as possible.

Congratulations on your pregnancy and your willingness to seek out excellent care for yourself during this important time. For more information on Naturopathic Medicine and on acupuncture in pregnancy, please see the resources listed below.


1)     Thunder Bay Naturopathic Clinic

2)     Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors

3)     Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors

4)     Debra Betts website on Acupuncture and Acupressure in Pregnancy


1)     Betts, Debra.  “The Essential Guide to Acupuncture in Pregnancy and Childbirth”.  The Journal of Chinese Medicine Ltd. 2006, Sussex England.

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