Acupuncture During Pregnancy and Childbirth
by Sheryl Mika
Acupuncture has been used in China and other other Asian countries for over 2500 years. Lately, it
has also found a home in Western cultures. As a result of a report presented at the 85th Annual
Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in 1999, the FDA removed the acupuncture
needle from its list of experimental devices and now considers it an accepted medical device. The
report described studies in which healthy subjects, men and women between the ages of 25 and 54,
received pain stimuli while they were undergoing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain.
The MRI pictures clearly showed a reduction in pain activity in most subjects with no side effects,
indicating it's clinical effectiveness and ending speculation of a "placebo effect". Acupuncture and
Chinese medicine is a good way to resolve conditions without using drugs. Many consumers are
concerned about the effects of drugs on their unborn child. There is no medicine in the needles, they
are used simply for stimulation. It is based on the concept of balanced Qi (pronounced 'chee') or vital
energy that flows throughout the body via certain pathways that are accessed by puncturing the skin
with hair-thin needles at particular locations cal ed acupuncture points. Acupuncture needles are so
thin treatment is virtual y painless. Even those with strong aversions to normal injections find
acupuncture to be surprisingly comfortable. After insertion of one or more needles a client is often
allowed to relax to soothing music for around 20 minutes, after which the needles are removed. The
World Health Organization also recognizes that acupuncture is beneficial for many medical
conditions. During the childbearing year, acupuncture has been shown to be beneficial for:
• Reducing Hyperemesis - severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy
Carlsson, MD, Axemo, MD, Bodin, RN, Cartensen, MD, et. al. Manual Acupuncture Reduces Hyperemesis Gravidarum, A
Placebo-Control ed, Randomized, Single-Blind, Crossover Study. Nov 1999.
• Turning Breech Babies into a head-down position
Cardini, F., & Wiexin, H. (1998) Moxibustion for correction of breech presentation. The Journal of the American Medical
Association, 280 (18), 1580-1584
• Reducing Pregnancy-Related Pelvic and low-back Pain
Kvorning N, Holmberg C, Grennert L, et al. Acupuncture relieves pelvic and low-back pain in late pregnancy. Acta Obstetricia
et Gynecologica Scandinavica. March 2004; 83(3):246-50.
• Reducing Pain During Labor
Nesheim, B I,Kinge, R, Berg, B, et al. Acupuncture during labor can reduce the use of meperidine (Demerol): a control ed
clinical study. The Clinical Journal of Pain (2003;19:187–91)
Acupuncture Reduces Pain During Labor
Women who receive acupuncture during labor may experience less pain and require less analgesic
medication, according to a new study in The Clinical Journal of Pain (2003;19:187–91). A large
majority of women receiving acupuncture treatments during labor said they would want it again if they
were to give birth again.
In the new study, 200 pregnant women were randomly assigned to receive acupuncture treatments
during labor or no acupuncture. Specific acupuncture points were chosen by the midwife based on
the woman’s needs during labor. The needles were left in for about 20 minutes, but some women
required a shorter or longer duration of treatment. Analgesics, including meperidine (Demerol®),
nitrous oxide, epidural block (an injection of an anesthetic in the low back that numbs all of the nerves
going to the uterus), and hot water bottles were used in both groups as needed for pain. The amount
of analgesic medication used was recorded during labor and delivery.
In the group receiving acupuncture, 11% received meperidine during labor, compared with 37% of
those who did not receive acupuncture. The percentage of women who required no analgesics at all
in the acupuncture and placebo groups was 34% and 18%, respectively. When women who received
acupuncture were questioned about whether they would want it if they gave birth again, more than
85% said they would.
The main reason for using analgesic medications during labor is to decrease or eliminate pain
associated with uterine contractions. Meperidine is one of the most widely used medications for pain
relief during labor but some studies suggest it is not very effective for pain control and may have
adverse side effects on babies. An epidural block is effective but is not always appropriate for some
stages of labor. Moreover, it is invasive and does not last long, which is problematic for women with
prolonged labor. Acupuncture appears to be an effective method of pain control during labor and has
no adverse side effects on the mother or baby.
MRI Shows That Acupuncture Treatments Reduce Pain
by ED Sussman
Dec. 1, 1999 (Chicago) -- Sticking an acupuncture needle into a point in the hand greatly diminishes
the amount of brain activity associated with pain impulses, doctors report at the 85th Annual Meeting
of the Radiological Society of North America.
In a series of experiments, researchers tel WebMD, the proper placement of the fine acupuncture
needle in the area between the thumb and forefinger, called the Hegu point, al owed subjects to
tolerate greater amounts of pain. And pictures of the brain before and after acupuncture treatment
show dramatic decreases in brain activity -- up to 70%.
"It is important for Western medicine to recognize that these acupoints real y mean something in
regard to pain relief," says Huey-Jen Lee, MD, associate professor of clinical radiology and director of
neuroradiology at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark. Acupoints are
certain points on the body that, when pressed or punctured, have beneficial effects for certain
Lee reported on studies in which healthy subjects, men and women between the ages of 25 and 54,
received pain stimuli while they were undergoing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The
simultaneous procedures al owed doctors to view how and where brain activity occurred without
acupuncture and during acupuncture treatments.
When the experiments were repeated after insertion of the acupuncture needle at the commonly used
Hegu point, pain levels as seen with the MRI were decreased. Of 12 subjects who underwent the
procedure, nine experienced pain relief.
"The data is pretty impressive," Elvira Lang, MD, associate professor of radiology and medicine at
Harvard Medical School, Boston, tel s WebMD. She says the MRI pictures clearly show a reduction in
pain activation. "This shows there real y is something going on here." Lee says that because the MRI
definitively shows brain activity, it was likely the increased tolerance to pain was real and not just an
artifact of treatment, known as a placebo effect.
"The brain actual y shows differences," Lee says, "and that is convincing."
Wen-Ching Liu, PhD, a co-author of the study, says, "We found activity subsided in 60-70% of the
The use of acupuncture for pain relief is gaining acceptance in the U.S., Lee says. "So many people
with pain, whether from cancer, headache, or a chronic, unexplained condition, rely on medications,
such as morphine, which can become addicting. Acupuncture has no side effects, and other studies
have shown the pain relief it provides can last for months." Liu said there are more than 400
commonly used acupuncture points, or acupoints, on the body, although other practitioners of
acupuncture wil sometime cite more than 1,000 points.
Lee noted that the FDA has removed the acupuncture needle from its list of experimental devices and
now considers it as an accepted medical device.
The study, Lee says, shows that "using a new technology can help us understand how this 2,500-
year-old technique works. We stil need more tests to understand this. Right now, we stil really don't
know how this works."
• When patients are stimulated with acupuncture at a point between the thumb and forefinger,
they are able to tolerate greater amounts of pain.
• Imaging of the brain shows a decrease in activity in the areas that regulate pain while
acupuncture is performed.
• Acupuncture has no side effects, and the acupuncture needle is approved by the FDA as a