Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years in the treatment of many conditions. More recently Western Medical Practitioners have been researching its benefit with regard to fertilization and preganancy problems. Unfortunately the UK is somewhat behind the rest of Europe when using acupuncture within our NHS but there is strong evidence to supports its use in the below listed treatments.
- Acupuncture for nausea and vomiting (morning sickness)
- Acupuncture for Pelvic girdle pain (Symphasis Pubis Dysfunction or SPD)
- Acupuncture to improve sperm quantity and quality
- Acupuncture for promotion of regular ovulation
- Acupuncture for the reduction of anxiety and stress
- Acupuncture to increase uterine blood flow
- Acupuncture for Low back pain in pregnancy
- Acupuncture for induction of Labour at term
- Acupuncture for cervical ripening (from 36 weeks) – to reduce labour time by up to 50%
- Moxibustion and/or Acupuncture in the management of Breech Presentation
- Pain relief in labour
- Birth preparation
- Acupuncture for breast feeding problems (e.g. hypogalactia or engorgement)
The Cochrane review has reviewed all of the research relating to the above uses for acupuncture and has found evidence supporting the role of acupuncture for uses in pregnancy and infertility.
The Cochrane Collaboration is an international network of more than 31,000 dedicated people from over 120 countries. They work together to help healthcare practitioners, policy-makers, patients, their advocates and carers, make well-informed decisions about health care
Acupuncture for morning sickness
Morning sickness refers to nausea and vomiting during pregnancy – despite occurring at any time of the day or night! It occurs in about 50% of pregnancies, usually between the sixth and sixteenth weeks, but the most intense at 8-12 weeks (Miller 2002; Woolhouse 2006). Eating little, if there is nausea, is not the main concern, the real issue is vomiting – this can lead to dehydration, and then hospitalisation to receive intravenous fluids. Morning sickness is generally thought to occur because of the massive change in hormones although fatigue, stress or emotional factors can also contribute.
During the early stage of pregnancy, huge energetic changes are going on in the body and acupuncture can help at that energetic level – so the nausea subsides, vomiting (if there was any) or belching fades away, the sense of smell becomes manageable, and energy and emotions return to balance, so that mum to be to enjoy her pregnancy. The treatment is entirely safe to the pregnancy and generally the morning sickness will resolve from the beginning to the end of the treatment but sometimes it can take a little longer in more severe cases.
Acupuncture for Pelvic girdle pain and back pain
The Cochrane review in 2013 found a moderate amount of quality evidence suggesting that acupuncture was useful in the treatment of pelvic girdle pain.
Anecdotally women have been using Acupuncture for thousands of years to treat back pain during pregnancy. Some of the points used are near the area of pain and others are in your arms and legs.
The below provides a detailed scientific explanation as to how acupuncture provides pain relief:
Acupuncture points are areas of designated electrical sensitivity. Inserting needles at these points stimulates various sensory receptors that, in turn, stimulate nerves that transmit impulses to the hypothalamic-pituitary system at the base of the brain.
The hypothalamus-pituitary glands are responsible for releasing neurotransmitters and endorphins, the body’s natural pain-killing hormones. It is estimated that endorphins are 200 times more potent than morphine. Endorphins also play a big role in the functioning of the hormonal system. This is why acupuncture works well for back pain and arthritis and also for P.M.S. and infertility.
The substances released as a result of acupuncture not only relax the whole body, they regulate serotonin in the brain which plays a role in human and animal disposition. This is why depression is often treated with acupuncture.
Acupuncture to improve sperm quantity and quality
Researchers found five weeks of acupuncture treatment reduced the number of structural abnormalities in sperm and increased the overall number of normal sperm in a group of men with infertility problems.
They say the results suggest that acupuncture may complement traditional infertility treatments and help men reach their full reproductive potential.
Acupuncture for promotion of regular ovulation
Many women suffer from ovulation factors which will ultimately affect their fertility. The most common ovulation factors are annovulation (lack of ovulation) and irregular ovulation, both of which can result in no egg for fertilization, thus creating an impasse to conception. Ovulation can be affected by many things, including stress, illness, or disruption of normal routines. Often an imbalance of the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis develops and results in an irregular production of hormones needed to produce a normal ovulation cycle.
Acupuncture assists the body in regulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis, thus balancing the hormones to produce an increased number of follicles, better quality eggs, and a normal LH surge to release a mature egg. It increases the blood flow to the uterus and increases the thickness of the uterine lining to improve implantation rates. Acupuncture also relaxes the nervous system and decreases stress levels to dramatically improve chances of pregnancy. If annovulation exists due to immune issues, acupuncture can regulate the immune system and help restore hormonal balance and ovulation.
Acupuncture for the reduction of anxiety and stress
The number of couples seeking the services of human reproduction clinics for the evaluation of problems related to infertility has increased dramatically in the last 30 years.
According to the World Health Organization, 8–10% of couples have some infertility problem during their reproductive lives.
Infertility brings a series of significant losses in the life of a couple, associated with increased levels of depression and anxiety, anger and frustration. Infertility is stressful and causes anxiety. The wait for the outcome of trying to conceive and uncertainty of success also causes stress and anxiety, sometimes accompanied by depressive symptoms. The different phases of the infertility and its treatment cause an emotional response.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine have been used to treat anxiety and depression since 1100BC. The use of acupuncture in the treatment of psychological disorders has increased considerably and many clinical studies report reductions in anxiety level which in turn will increase your chances of falling pregnant.
Acupuncture to increase uterine blood flow
It is generally believed that adequate endometrial thickness is required to optimize pregnancy rate. Endometrial thickness is a function of uterine artery blood flow.
With acupunctures central sympathoinhibitory effect, it has been shown to reduce uterine artery impedance and therefore, increase blood flow to the uterus. Sterner-Victorin et al. 2006 Acupuncture Medicine December;24(4):157-63. demonstrated this when they performed acupuncture in 10 infertile women with positive effect who were down-regulated by GnRH analog to avoid the effect of endogenous hormone on the uterine artery blood flow.
Acupuncture for Cervical ripening and induction of labour
Acupuncture can be used from 36 weeks to begin ripening your cervix in preparation for labour. Acupuncture has been shown to increase a woman’s Bishop score. The duration of labor is inversely correlated with the Bishop score; a score that exceeds 8 describes the patient most likely to achieve a successful vaginal birth.
For further evidence see Roemer et al. 2000 Geburtshilfe Frauenheilkunde 60: 513-518
From 40 weeks we are able to use a more intensive form of cervical ripening which is aimed at inducing labour.
Moxibustion and/or Acupuncture in the management of Breech Presentation
It is preferable to have a cephalic (head down) presentation to reduce risks to baby and mother. There are some risks associated with external cephalic version and acupuncture or moxibustion has been researched to show a safe alternative to turn your baby. Coyle et al 2000, showed with 1346 women that combined acupuncture, moxibustion, resulted in fewer non-cephalic presentations at birth and fewer births by Caesarean section.
Evidence to support:
Coyle et al. 2012 (Cochrane Review)
Cardini and Weixin 1998
Acupuncture/Acupressure for Labour:
We can show you and your birthing partner acupressure for pain relief in labour. Acupressure has been shown to reduce labour pain intensity. Interestingly the Cochrane review by Jones et al 2000, has researched and published a list of things that provide pain relief in the order of their evidence base, see the below:
|Combined spinal epidural (CSE)|
|What may work||Acupuncture/Acupressure|
|Immersion in water|
|Insufficient evidence to make a judgement||Hypnosis|
|Parenteral opiod drugs (e.g. pethidine)|
Acupuncture for Breast feeding problems:
There are many benefits to breast feeding including its free, it burns extra calories, and its good for the baby. There are two main threats to effective breast feeding, Hypogalatica (insufficient milk production) and breast engorgement.
Acupuncture has been evidenced to aid with both of these problems and help women continue breast feeding for longer.