Acupuncture During Pregnancy – Yes, it’s safe!

A significant part of my practice is treating women who are either trying to become pregnant, or are already pregnant.

Once pregnant, most women are happy to come back for treatment of issues like nausea and vomiting, back pain, and of course ‘pre-birth treatments’ (intended to assist the profile of hormones that are naturally present and essential for labour and delivery).   However, there are some who are nervous that acupuncture could somehow harm their baby, and that’s a great pity, because there is no evidence that acupuncture is harmful. Quite the contrary – it’s not only effective, its safe, and the purpose of this blog is to demonstrate just that.

Firstly, who says “its safe”? Is it a bunch of Acupuncturists who would say that anyway? No, its not, although the long history of using acupuncture for pregnancy related problems in China is party why we in the west have been using it for the last few decades.

The conclusion that it is safe comes from researchers who had their paper published in the journal, ‘Acupuncture in Medicine’, which is itself a ‘subset’ of the British Medical Journal, an international, peer reviewed medical journal. And just so it is clear why this is significant, the BMJ has been published continuously since 1840, and in July 2008 it was named Medical Publication of the Year at the Medical Journalist Association’s awards in London. In the same year the US Specialist Libraries’ Association named The BMJ as one of the 100 most influential journals in medicine and biology of the past 100 years. In other words, the BMJ publishes the most credible and influential research papers in the world, on all subjects to do with human health.

So, what did the research set out to discover and why?

The research acknowledges that there is a growing interest in the use of acupuncture during pregnancy, but wanted to rigorously investigate its safety. (It did not set out to review the efficacy of acupuncture for conditions experienced during pregnancy. This has been demonstrated in other research conducted around the world.)

What was the research method?

The researchers selected and reviewed 105 papers from 10 different research databases around the world. Studies were included regardless of their design if they reported original (first hand) data and involved acupuncture needling and/or moxibustion treatment for any conditions in women, so long as they were pregnant.

Of 105 included studies, detailed ‘Adverse Events’ (AE) were reported only in 25 studies represented by 27 articles (25.7%). (55 studies did not mention AEs, 22 studies reported there were no AEs, and one study reported that fewer AEs had occurred in the acupuncture group without a detailed description of AEs.)

What did the research find out about Adverse Events (AE)?

AEs that were evaluated as certainly, probably or possibly caused by acupuncture were all mild/moderate in severity, with needling pain (a transient experience) being the most frequent.

Severe AEs or deaths were few and all were considered unlikely to have been caused by acupuncture. Total AE incidence was 1.9%, and the incidence of AEs evaluated as certainly, probably or possibly causally related to acupuncture was 1.3%.

What did the research conclude?

The research concluded this: “Acupuncture during pregnancy appears to be associated with few AEs when correctly applied”.

Summary

It would be fair to say that a 1.3% incidence of Adverse Events (mild-moderate in severity) represents a very, very tiny risk of a woman experiencing anything of significance as a result of an acupuncture treatment provided by a professionally trained, experienced Acupuncturist.

Acupuncture is therefore an excellent choice of treatment for pregnant women who have concerns about the use of drugs to treat their conditions.  The caveat, of course, is that you do not discontinue any medications without consulting your doctor!

Sources:

Jimin Park, Youngjoo Sohn, Adrian R White, Hyangsook Lee; The Safety of Acupuncture during Pregnancy: a Systematic Review; Acupunct Med 2014;32:257-266 doi:10.1136/acupmed-2013-010480

 

 

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