Whether this is your first or fourth pregnancy, chances are you may be feeling icky with morning sickness. In fact, between 50 and 80 percent of pregnant people experience some form of nausea and vomiting. And despite what it sounds like, these symptoms can hit at any time of the day or night.
More and more people are turning to acupuncture to help ease their nausea and other pregnancy symptoms, and there’s research to back up this alternative therapy. Here’s what you need to know before you go.
Even before you see the positive sign on your pregnancy test, your body is hard at work increasing your levels of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) to support your baby’s growth. As your hCG rises, you may feel queasy or even throw up.
Some people only have brief periods of nausea each day and otherwise feel quite normal. Others may find themselves feeling sick for hours on end with frequent vomiting.
If you’re going to experience morning sickness, you’ll likely start having symptoms by week 9 (and it’s not always just in the morning, by the way). Fortunately, most will also start feeling better a few weeks later in the second trimester or by 14 weeks gestation. Some pregnant people don’t get sick at all. And others may be sick their entire pregnancies.
If you had horrible nausea and vomiting with your first child, it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll experience that level of sickness again. Each pregnancy is unique. That said, feeling sick at all isn’t fun and can make it difficult to keep yourself and your baby hydrated, among other issues. This is where acupuncture comes in.
Acupuncture is a part of traditional Chinese medicine. It involves placing tiny needles along different points (meridians) on the body to align the flow of energy (chi/qi) and promote wellness. The practice has been around for thousands of years and is gaining clout as a possible treatment for morning sickness. But what does the science say?
In one older (but very relevant)
The group receiving traditional acupuncture had less nausea and dry heaving just 2 weeks into treatment. The other acupuncture groups saw similar results compared to the no-acupuncture group after 3 weeks. The researchers did point out, though, that the incidence of vomiting didn’t change in any of the groups despite treatment.
Another study, this one from 2000, examined the more immediate effects of acupuncture on vomiting. Researchers specifically looked into a more severe form of morning sickness called hyperemesis gravidarum.
The researchers honed in on a certain acupuncture/acupressure point — pericardium 6 or P6. This point is located on the inner wrist, around 5 centimeters above the wrist crease. In other studies, this point has been shown to reduce nausea related to opioid use during surgery and sickness related to chemotherapy treatments.
Acupuncture was administered three times a day for 30 minutes a session. All women in the study were vomiting on day 0 (the start of the study). By day 3, only 7 out of the 17 participants in the acupuncture group were vomiting, compared to 12 of the 16 in the placebo group. On day 4, even fewer women in the treatment group were vomiting. Women in the active treatment group also consumed more food overall than in the placebo group.
The sample size in the study is admittedly small. It’s also not terribly convenient (or necessarily affordable) to get three sessions of acupuncture a day. So, more research is needed to assess acupuncture’s effectiveness in a real-world setting.
The research is promising, and many people who have never had acupuncture before may choose to try it out for morning sickness relief — so what is an appointment actually like?
Well, if you’ve never been to an acupuncturist before, you can expect to start your first visit by talking about your pregnancy, your health history, and any symptoms (like morning sickness) that are bothering you. The practitioner will then give you a physical exam.
After this initial assessment, your practitioner will decide which points to stimulate. You may sit or lie down for the needle insertion. Wear comfortable clothing, such as wide-leg sweatpants/yoga pants or a loose T-shirt you can roll up for easier access to your arms and legs.
Once the needles are in place, you may feel a slight bit of discomfort — but they shouldn’t hurt. You may stay put on the table for 20 to 30 minutes. Your practitioner may lower the lights in the room or play soothing music to get you in the total relaxation zone.
Your acupuncturist will then give you a treatment plan that includes how many times you’ll have sessions each week and any other information you may need. If you’re concerned about costs, be sure to inquire about insurance, sliding scales, or payment plans before you receive treatment.
Acupuncture can be totally safe if you go to a licensed professional who is trained to treat patients during pregnancy. Complications are rare, and the majority of adverse reactions are mild. Reactions include things like:
- temporary discomfort or swelling where the needles are inserted
There are so-called “forbidden points” that most acupuncturists will avoid during pregnancy.
Speak with your doctor before going to your first appointment to discuss your health history, any pregnancy complications you have, and any other concerns you have about receiving acupuncture.
On the fence about this alternative treatment? There are other ways you can try to reduce your nausea and vomiting at home. For example, you may consider asking your doctor about taking over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aid Unisom and vitamin B6 together.
Other home remedies for morning sickness include:
- eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day
- eating something before you get out of bed in the morning (a good excuse to be served breakfast in bed!)
- eating bland foods, like bananas, rice, applesauce, toast, or other foods that are known to be morning-sickness friendly
- adding more protein to your diet — lean meats, nuts and seeds, dairy products, protein powders
- ingesting ginger (candies, capsules, teas, or even ginger ale)
- staying hydrated by drinking 8 to 12 cups of fluids each day
- avoiding foods or smells that bring on nausea
- using your fingers or acupressure bracelets (such as those made by Sea-Band), which put pressure on the P6 acupressure point (stimulation of this point has been found to reduce duration and frequency of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy)
Acupuncture may help ease your morning sickness. If you feel particularly unwell, it’s safe and worth a try to get some relief. Regardless, morning sickness should lift early on in the second trimester.
Don’t hesitate to tell your doctor how you’re feeling. Your healthcare professional can give you other suggestions for natural remedies or even prescribe medications that may help the most severe nausea and vomiting.