Birth & Delivery

The pregnancy acupuncture 101 – from labour induction to back pain relief

Jessie Day, in partnership with Nature Heals  |   6 Jul 2023

There are – I’ve found – very few things acupuncture can’t help with. My mother-in-law swears by a session for nasal congestion, and I had incredible results years ago for a bad metatarsal break. But fertility, pregnancy, labour and postpartum are some of the most researched – and hugely popular – areas of wellbeing to be supported by acupuncture. 

I had acupuncture throughout my fertility journey, and pregnancy acupuncture with both of my children. I wish very much that I’d taken the time to have acupuncture in my fourth trimesters, but between Covid and the general fast lane of parenting life, didn’t make it happen. Maybe next time. 

Having a go-to pregnancy acupuncture clinic – preferably one that’s not a pain to get to, when you’re heavily pregnant or nauseous – is an absolute must for us mums on team TRB. Meet Karla, Practitioner-Founder of Nature Heals and experienced acupuncturist, who has treated TRB CEO and founder Eloise for over five years across her fertility and pregnancy journeys. 

Part of the TRB pro family and London College of Acupuncture alumni, Karla is a highly experienced practitioner, specialising in using acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) and Arvigo Maya Abdominal therapy to treat a range of interconnected issues – from gynaecological and fertility to pregnancy and the birth experience. 

Book straight into Karla’s clinic for expert, individualised pregnancy acupuncture and pre-birth support and treatment. 

Keep reading for Karla’s expert 101 on pregnancy acupuncture – from who might benefit (almost everyone) to specific points around discomfort, sustained energy and labour induction.

What is pregnancy acupuncture?

Let’s back up a bit and talk about acupuncture itself, which has been used in Asian cultures and various medical settings for thousands of years. 

You’ll sometimes see acupuncture listed under the umbrella of ‘traditional Chinese medicine’ (TCM) techniques. Given it’s been used with such success for centuries, it is absolutely a traditional, and dynamic, approach to health and wellbeing. It’s also often listed as a ‘complementary therapy’, especially by Western medical practice. 

During acupuncture, your practitioner will insert very fine metal needles into your skin, focusing on specific zones – we call them ‘points’ – in your body. These tiny needles (so tiny you can barely feel them, if at all) stimulate your points, while your practitioner works to bring your vital life force – your qi – into balance. They may also use techniques such as moxibustion, which delivers heat, to warm and stimulate specific acupuncture points. 

Women across the globe lean into pregnancy acupuncture for dynamic support across each trimester. And, crucially, multiple studies demonstrate its impact. Read up on its significant role in prenatal back pain relief, in this BMJ review.

acupuncture points for pregnancy back pain

What issues, aches and pains (and goals!) can pregnancy acupuncture support?

I would say this, but the simple answer is almost everything! 

I’ve seen and treated patients with so many varied needs and pregnancy wellness concerns, and so have many friends within the practitioner community. Pregnancy acupuncture patient notes really do read like an encyclopaedia of all-things prenatal – so whatever you’re trying to sort out, we’ve almost certainly been there before.

Here are some of my top patient aches, pains, concerns, issues and goals during pregnancy, which I can provide support for from day one of treatment, in my London practice: 

  • early pregnancy support (including working to minimise risk of miscarriage), fertility follow-on care
  • heartburn
  • exhaustion/fatigue and energy support
  • insomnia
  • constipation
  • haemorrhoids
  • back pain
  • muscular aches and pains
  • pelvic girdle pain (SPD)
  • headaches/migraines
  • nausea/morning sickness and hyperemesis gravidarum
  • anaemia 
  • oedema (fluid retention, swelling and build up)
  • anxiety and depression
  • birth preparation
  • breech and posterior positioning 
  • labour induction

I treat, support and put together unique treatment plans for all of these on a weekly basis, and so many more. Pregnancy is an incredible time, but can be challenging – your body is doing a superhuman job, after all! – and acupuncture is a powerful tool to have in your kit. 

Is acupuncture safe while pregnant?

In the majority of situations, yes, when you’re being treated by a trained professional. 

Research shows that pregnancy acupuncture carries no significant risk for delivery – the risks are more prevalent around soreness at insertion sites after your treatment (where we insert the needle), and in some cases, infection. This is rare, however, especially if you’re working with an experienced practitioner. 

A note on labour induction

Your practitioner will need to take care of the points in the body which can trigger contractions. Acupuncture is a dynamic, powerful practice and thousands of expecting women use it to induce, encourage and ‘bring on’ labour at the end of pregnancy, especially those who are overdue and keen to nudge things along. 

But if you’re not full-term, or labour and contractions aren’t your goal just yet – your practitioner will need to steer clear of specific points, focusing on your pregnancy wellbeing – energy, haemorrhoids and back pain, for example, rather than birth induction. 

What about back pain?

Join the queue mamas! Back pain is one of the most common issues I treat in pregnancy acupuncture. 

Put simply, acupuncture can be used to treat a whole range of musculoskeletal problems. It works to: 

  • release tension 
  • boost blood optimised blood flow
  • stimulate a cascade of key endorphins, including melatonin and serotonin

All of which work in harmony to reduce pain. It’s a powerful combination of natural healing function, within your own body, which we simply stimulate and nudge into action, through acupuncture.

acupuncture during pregnancy third trimester

Can you tell me more about moxibustion?

Sure! My patients tend to love moxibustion treatment – it’s often top of their wish list when coming for that first consultation. 

Moxibustion is really a heat therapy, where your practitioner will apply lightly smoking sticks, made from herbs (also known as ‘moxa rolls’) to specific acupuncture points during treatment. It sounds fairly hippy-dippy, but is a dynamic practice which has been used for centuries – right up to now in 2023 in NHS units across the UK – to support patients during pregnancy. 

This amazing heat therapy is particularly effective in helping babies to shift their position in utero, prior to birth, turning ideally from breech to head down presentation. It’s also fantastic in early pregnancy – during those first 12 weeks – to help stabilise the body and maintain good implantation. 

This was TRB founder Eloise’s primary concern, coming from a fertility and IVF journey, so we worked to minimise that chance of miscarriage through gentle, supportive acupuncture and moxibustion. 

Sounds amazing. Can it help with morning sickness too?

Yes, absolutely. There’s a lot behind the action of acupuncture on nausea, morning sickness, vomiting and right the way up to hyperemesis gravidarum. The main factors are its ability to decrease stomach acid secretion and – back to those endorphins mentioned above – work on the pituitary gland to dull the parts of the brain which make you need to vomit. 

There’s a lot more to it than that, which I can explain (or not, some people prefer to skip the definition and go straight to the relief!) during your consult. My aim with pregnancy acupuncture is to take a full view of your unique pregnancy profile, and work with you to provide as much support, relief and empowerment as possible, right up to birth and into your fourth trimester, where needed. 

You’ve got this! If I can help with any ache, pain or goal, do book an appointment, and we’ll tackle it together. 

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