The authors of one recent research study review concluded that “In pregnancy, acupuncture therapy may be a safe therapeutic modality for relieving discomfort without an adverse outcome” (Moon et al., 2020). Interestingly enough, however, classical acupuncture textbooks warn against using about a dozen points during pregnancy, particularly during the first 37 weeks. Modern acupuncture students are still taught and trained to stay away from those points when treating pregnant patients. But research studies have demonstrated that there is no danger in using those points during pregnancy. The author of one such report states: “Given the numerous evidence-based indications for obstetric acupuncture and lack of evidence of harm, risk: benefit assessments will often fall in favour of treatment (Carr, 2015).
Are Some Acupuncture Styles Safer during Pregnancy than Others?
While acupuncture was brought to Japan in the sixth century, it has been developing somewhat independently there for 1500 years. Typically, modern Japanese acupuncture methods involve much thinner acupuncture needles than modern Chinese acupuncture methods. As it is anticipated, acupuncture in Japan rarely has any side effects, and those adverse effects that do occur happen by happenstance, negligence, or lack of training in acupuncture (Yamashita et al., 2001). Why then certain points were forbidden to needle during pregnancy for so many years? The earliest acupuncture needles that have been discovered were made of stone. “With the improvement of smelting technology, various metal needles such as bronze needles in the Western Zhou Dynasty, iron needles during the period of Warring States in the Qin and Han Dynasties, and gold and silver needles were also used in acupuncture” (Zhu, Li,Yang, & Liu, 2021). Until the last hundred years or so, ancient acupuncture needles were much thicker than modern needles, which reduced the dangers of damaging internal organs.
Is Modern Acupuncture Safer during Pregnancy?
There are other reasons that make modern acupuncture significantly safer than it was a few hundred years ago. The main reason is advances in microbiology and sterilization procedures. In fact, most acupuncturists nowadays use disposable needles, which were sterilized in industrial conditions. Human immune system constantly fights off many infections, but during pregnancy the immune system often becomes weaker, putting the mother-to-be and her future child who doesn’t have his or her own immune system yet in a greater risk of catching an infection. Alongside with universal precautions, modern acupuncture is exponentially safer than it was in the past.
- Carr, D. J. (2015). The safety of obstetric acupuncture: forbidden points revisited. Acupuncture in Medicine, 33(5), 413-419.
- Moon, H. Y., Kim, M. R., Hwang, D. S., Jang, J. B., Lee, J., Shin, J. S., … & Lee, Y. J. (2020). Safety of acupuncture during pregnancy: a retrospective cohort study in Korea. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 127(1), 79-86.
- Yamashita, H., Tsukayama, H., White, A. R., Tanno, Y., Sugishita, C., & Ernst, E. (2001). Systematic review of adverse events following acupuncture: the Japanese literature. Complementary therapies in medicine, 9(2), 98-104.
- Zhu, J., Li, J., Yang, L., & Liu, S. (2021). Acupuncture, from the ancient to the current. The Anatomical Record, 304(11), 2365-2371.