Mar 15, 2022 • 5 min read

How Acupuncture Can Help Treat Your Pregnant Clients

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Eastern medicine treatments have been used for centuries to treat a variety of women’s health conditions. The use of Traditional Chinese, including acupuncture, is on the rise in the United States. This trend is true for pregnant people as well—the use of acupuncture in pregnancy has increased in recent years (1). Practitioners providing care for women’s health should be familiar with the uses of acupuncture and the knowledge base supporting its use. 

Acupuncture is one of the practices used in traditional Chinese medicine. It is a technique called needling, in which specific points on the body are stimulated, typically by inserting thin needles through the skin. 

There has been considerable research on various uses and efficacy of acupuncture.  However, the literature supporting the use of acupuncture in pregnancy is less clear. Providers that care for people throughout pregnancy should be aware of the potential benefits and risks of acupuncture.  

When to consider acupuncture for your clients 

Acupuncture has been extensively studied for several conditions (2) however the scientific community is only beginning to understand the impact of acupuncture on the brain and body.

There is generally even less understanding about the impact of acupuncture on pregnancy, labor, and birth. Studies of acupuncture are often small and hard to generalize to larger populations and the evidence can be conflicting. 

Nonetheless, acupuncture is regarded as highly safe in the general population (3), and this is true for pregnant people too (4).  One of the advantages of acupuncture is that it allows clients to avoid unnecessary medications during pregnancy (5). 

The most common uses of acupuncture in pregnancy are: 

  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Lower back pain
  • Headaches
  • Pelvic pain
  • Depression
  • Breech presentation
  • Labor pain 

Acupuncture to enhance fertility

In addition to pregnancy and birth, many people seek acupuncture to improve fertility or pregnancy outcomes while using assisted reproductive technologies like in IVF.

There are numerous studies that assert that acupuncture had positive effects on people undergoing IVF and yet when reviewed systematically, the evidence is less clear (6). 

If you care for people during pregnancy, you certainly know that lower back pain and pelvic pain are common complaints during pregnancy.  Pregnancy-related back pain is reported to be one of the most common reasons pregnant people miss work during their pregnancy (7). Non-pharmacologic treatment options are preferred in pregnancy due to the risk to the fetus. Acupuncture seems to help pregnant people with low back and pelvic pain according to some studies and is a good alternative treatment (7). 

Nausea and vomiting in pregnancy are also troublesome for many patients in the early weeks of pregnancy (8). Common non-pharmacologic treatment options to help improve nausea and vomiting in pregnancy are the use of ginger, vitamin B6, and acupressure (9).  Acupuncture can also be recommended as an alternative to or in conjunction with medication for nausea and vomiting. Some studies indicate that acupuncture or acupressure may improve some nausea and vomiting experienced by pregnant people (8). 

Acupuncture can be considered for clients with hyperemesis gravidarum. Although hyperemesis gravidarum is not common, it affects less than 3% of pregnant people, it can be very difficult to find a treatment that works (8). Acupuncture can be an effective approach to add to the usual treatment of hyperemesis gravidarum (10).

Acupuncture to prepare for labor and delivery

Breech presentation at delivery, whether by vaginal or cesarean delivery, is associated with increased morbidity and mortality (13).  By 32 to 35 weeks only 6-10% of pregnancies have a breech presentation (14) and the chances of spontaneous reversal go down as the pregnancy progresses (13). 

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 result in fewer non-vertex presentations at term. Since moxibustion is in comparison a simple and inexpensive treatment option that requires no medical intervention, it can be offered to pregnant people with breech presentation (13). 

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists notes that acupuncture is a method that can be used for pain relief during labor (15). However, they did note the lack of large studies makes it difficult to recommend the use of acupuncture for everyone. 

Acupuncture to support mental health

Depression is a common mood disorder that is nearly twice as common in women than men and tends to peak during reproductive years (11). So, it is not surprising that depression is common during pregnancy and after birth. Studies have demonstrated a positive effect of acupuncture on depression (12).  Alternative treatments may be appealing if you are looking to avoid medication treatment. 

How to explain the benefits of acupuncture to your clients

Clients may proactively seek out recommendations or advice on the use of alternative treatments for common pregnancy-related discomforts, including the use of acupuncture. 

Practitioners can reassure their clients that acupuncture is thought to be a generally safe treatment and may help with some of the common discomforts of pregnancy. They can also help their client by explaining what to expect from an acupuncture visit, and refer them to an in-network acupuncturist through Zaya Care.

Are you a practitioner passionate about maternal care? Join our network of lactation consultants, pelvic floor therapists, mental health therapists, dietitians, acupuncturists,  and more.


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  2. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Acupuncture: In Depth. 2016. Retrieved Nov 8, 2021 from
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