If specific restrictions are observed, acupuncture can be an ideal therapeutic tool during pregnancy, labour and after birth.
Numerous carefully controlled studies provide proof that a striking array of the body's biochemistry can be stimulated by this ancient form of needle stimulation, in ways that always nudge the various systems back into balance and without causing the body to respond negatively or unnecessarily (e g "The Influence of Acupuncture Stimulation during Pregnancy: The Induction and Inhibition of Labour," J J Tsuei et al, Obst and Gynae 50: 479, 1977).
Iron deficiency anaemia often bedevils pregnant women, causing uterine contractions. Acupuncture has been shown to not only sedate the uterine muscles, but also promote a gradual increase in the haemoglobin levels (A P & NA Zarkin, Medicina, Leningrad, 1988).
During labour, it's known that contractions are helped by the release of the hormone oxytocin (the same hormone that helps to release milk during breastfeeding). In the work quoted above, the Zarkins demonstrate an 84.9 per cent success rate in the use of manual acupuncture stimulation from between 90 minutes to six hours to raise these oxytocin levels. Other studies have shown success by using the less fatiguing electro stimulation, where electrodes are attached to needles for a stronger effect (SK Yip et al, Am J of Chin Medicine 4: 257, 1976).
Serotonin, another hormone, also plays a significant part in labour by stimulating uterine muscle fibre and helping to create awareness of pain. One study found that acupuncture was effective in pain relief by normalizing serotonin levels ( V F Markelova et al Zh Nevropatol Psikhiatr 84: 1313-1316, 1984).
Acupuncture has also been shown to help release natural morphine like substances such as leuenkephalin which reduce the severity of pain during delivery (N Aronin et al, J Neurosci 1:561; 1981). Another study demonstrated acupuncture's effectiveness in general pain relief, compared with Valium, morphine and aspirin (J A Stern et al, Annals of New York Academy of Science 296: 175, 1977).
Other scientific investigations confirm the usefulness of acupuncture in helping for pain relief (e g, M Hydod & O Gega in Am J of Chin Medicine 5: 63, 1977), even anaesthesia during caesarean section (Chinese Medical Journal 98: 221, 1980).
Besides pain relief, acupuncture has also been proven to help successfully turn a fetus that is lying in the wrong position, as with a breech birth (the Shanghai College of Traditional Medicine, Acupuncture: A Comprehensive Text, Eastland Press, Seattle, 1984). The same text provides evidence of the usefulness of acupuncture for morning sickness and infertility.
Harald Gaier is a registered naturopath, osteopath and homoeopath.