Feb 23, 2022 • 4 min read

Acupuncture During Pregnancy: Safety, Benefits, and Risks

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Eastern medicine treatments have been used for centuries to treat a variety of women’s health conditions. Acupuncture is one of the practices used in traditional Chinese medicine. It uses a technique, called needling, in which specific points on the body are stimulated by inserting thin needles through the skin. Triggering these points, called acupoints, is thought to release endorphins. Such nerve stimulation may block pain signals and relieve other pregnancy discomforts. 

Acupuncture is a popular alternative treatment for many common conditions, but what about is its use in pregnancy and after birth? 

The use of acupuncture in pregnancy has increased in recent years (1). The research around acupuncture in pregnancy is not comprehensive and has some limitations. However, there are studies that show promising results. 

Here we will discuss the research around the benefits and risks of acupuncture during pregnancy. 

Acupuncture for morning sickness

Most women experience some amount of nausea and/or vomiting in the early weeks of pregnancy (2). It may be called morning sickness, but pregnant people know that nausea and vomiting can come any time of the day, and people often try alternative therapies to help.  Some studies indicate that acupuncture or acupressure may improve nausea and vomiting symptoms during pregnancy (2). 

Aside from common morning sickness, there are some people that experience severe vomiting in pregnancy, called hyperemesis gravidarum.  Although hyperemesis gravidarum is not common, it only affects less than 3% of pregnant people, it can be very difficult to find a treatment that works (2). Acupuncture seems to be an effective approach to add to the other treatments for hyperemesis gravidarum (3). 

Acupuncture for back pain

If you have experienced low back pain during pregnancy, you are certainly not alone. It is one of the most common discomforts of pregnancy (4). Acupuncture may help pregnant people with lower back pain (5). It can also be a good alternative treatment to certain pain medications that should be avoided during pregnancy. 

Acupuncture for depression 

Many people experience depression, which is twice as common in women than men and tends to peak during reproductive years (6). So it is not surprising that depression is common during pregnancy and after birth.

Pregnant and postpartum people may choose to take antidepressant medications but some find alternative treatments preferable (7).  Small studies indicate that acupuncture can improve depression symptoms in pregnancy (8).   

Postpartum depression is the most common complication after birth (9). Although studies indicate that acupuncture is not as effective at treating depression as medication, it can have benefits that are appealing because it is safe (9).  

Acupuncture for breech presentation 

Breech is a term used to describe when a baby is not head down in the pelvis but rather feet or butt down. Most babies turn head down and stay that way by the third trimester. By 32 to 35 weeks, only 6-10% of pregnancies are breech (10). Breech presentation at the time of birth can pose a risk to the baby, and vaginal delivery is often not recommended. 

Moxibustion is a technique that can be performed on an acupoint with or without acupuncture and has been studied for its effect on turning breech presentations. There is some evidence that moxibustion with acupuncture can help encourage babies to turn head down (11). Since moxibustion is simple and inexpensive it is considered a good option to try if the baby is breech (11). 

Acupuncture for labor and birth 

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (12) noted that acupuncture is a method that can be used for pain relief in labor (12). However, they did note the lack of large studies makes it difficult to recommend the use of acupuncture for everyone.  

Other ways acupuncture can help

There are a number of other potential uses for acupuncture in pregnancy including constipation, indigestion, swelling or edema, preeclampsia, or to get labor started. There are also a few studies to support the use of acupuncture as an alternative treatment for these conditions, so it may be a good idea to discuss with your provider.

What to know before your visit 

You may be wondering what to expect and will it hurt? Treatment involves the use of small sterile needles inserted into acupuncture points. Acupuncturists are trained to stimulate the acupoints that correspond with a certain condition or discomfort. 

There is controversy over whether there are so-called forbidden points in acupuncture that could cause preterm contractions or make acupuncture risky to a pregnant person (12). However, experts don’t agree these exist. According to one review of the side effects of acupuncture in pregnancy, the most common side effects from acupuncture are mild and go away quickly. These include pain or soreness at the needle site or bleeding or bruising (12).  


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  2. Matthews A, Haas DM, O’Mathúna DP, Dowswell T. Interventions for nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2015(9)
  3. Lu H, Zheng C, Zhong Y, Cheng L, Zhou Y. Effectiveness of Acupuncture in the Treatment of Hyperemesis Gravidarum: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2021 Jul 28;2021.
  4. Davis DC. The discomforts of pregnancy. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing. 1996 Jan;25(1):73-81.
  5. Wang SM, DeZinno P, Lin EC, Lin H, Yue JJ, Berman MR, Braveman F, Kain ZN. Auricular acupuncture as a treatment for pregnant women who have low back and posterior pelvic pain: a pilot study. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology. 2009 Sep 1;201(3):271-e1. 
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  9. Li W, Yin P, Lao L, Xu S. Effectiveness of acupuncture used for the management of postpartum depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BioMed research international. 2019 Mar 20;2019.
  10. Witkop CT, Zhang J, Sun W, Troendle J. Natural history of fetal position during pregnancy and risk of nonvertex delivery. Obstetrics & Gynecology. 2008 Apr 1;111(4):875-80.
  11. Brici P, Franconi G, Scatassa C, Fabbri E, Assirelli P. Turning foetal breech presentation at 32-35 weeks of gestational age by acupuncture and moxibustion. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2019 Jun 9;2019.
  12. Approaches to limit intervention during labor and birth. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 766. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Obstet Gynecol 2019;133:e164–73.