There are a number of acupuncture points that practitioners are taught not to use if their patient is pregnant. These are points which can be used to encourage childbirth, or help to turn a breech foetus (for example with a point known as Zhiyin/BL67 on the tip of the pinky/small toe). Because of this, if you are not asked – and it is not obvious – it is important to tell your practitioner if you are pregnant.

Pregnancy causes the body to undergo considerable changes some of which can cause emotional and physical difficulties and pain which could require support. Acupuncture treatment may be able to help with some of these problems.

For example, following a randomized controlled trial of 150 pregnant women,[1] acupuncture was shown to be potentially as effective as standard treatments for depression during pregnancy: “Short acupuncture protocol demonstrated symptom reduction and a response rate comparable to those observed in standard depression treatments of similar length and could be a viable treatment option for depression during pregnancy”.

There has also been considerable interest in acupuncture and infertility treatment. While the overall scientific evidence for acupuncture and IVF is currently not strong, many of the studies that have been reviewed are not sufficiently large. Further research in this area should include better designed randomized trials on a larger scale. In terms of evidence, a study on acupuncture and infertility offered a measured and useful conclusion: “The qualitative information presented suggests that women find the use of acupuncture empowering, whether or not pregnancy is achieved. This indicates that acupuncture can play an important role in strategies for enhancing women’s health.”[2]

But what of the overall safety of acupuncture? It is possible that pregnant women may feel more concerned about being treated, particularly if they know about BL67! A recent study analysed the number of adverse effects (AE) recorded in 105 acupuncture studies and concluded that “Acupuncture during pregnancy appears to be associated with few AEs when correctly applied”.[3]

An older study carried out in York with over 34,000 patients concluded that “no serious adverse events were reported after 34 407 acupuncture treatments”.[4] The paper goes on to point out that “Comparison of this adverse event rate for acupuncture with those of drugs routinely prescribed in primary care suggests that acupuncture is a relatively safe form of treatment”.

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References

[1] Manber R, Schnyer RN, Lyell D, Chambers AS, Caughey AB, Druzin M, et al. Acupuncture for Depression During Pregnancy: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Obstetrics & Gynecology. 2010 Mar;115(3):511–20.

[2] De Lacey S, Smith C. Acupuncture and Infertility Treatment: Is There More to the Outcome for Women than Pregnancy? Medical Acupuncture. 2013 Jun 1;25(3):195–9.

[3] Park J, Sohn Y, White AR, Lee H. The safety of acupuncture during pregnancy: a systematic review. Acupuncture in Medicine. 2014 Jun;32(3):257–66.

[4] MacPherson H, Thomas K, Walters S, Fitter M. The York acupuncture safety study: prospective survey of 34 000 treatments by traditional acupuncturists. BMJ. 2001 Sep 1;323(7311):486–7.