Acupuncture in Pregnancy

By Dr. Liz Carlson at

At the age of 6, I missed an entire birthday party hiding in a basement, willing the family’s St. Bernard to go into labor. As an 8 year old, I recall boldly asking my mother’s coworker to pull down her pants so that I could see her c-section incision. At a high school party, I hung out with the mother, an IVF nurse, trying to squeeze all of my questions about fertility into one night.

When I attended Bowdoin College, I still didn’t recognize my affinity towards fertility + pregnancy, and studied psychology with the intent of becoming a child psychologist. It was my mother’s journey with Parkinson’s disease that introduced me to the world of functional medicine; I went on to study acupuncture + Chinese Medicine and within this practice settled into my niche focused on women’s health. In the earlier part of my career when my clinic wasn’t as busy, I served as a birth doula, a deeply gratifying experience for that 6 year old that never had the chance to help welcome the puppies (the dog wasn’t even pregnant by the way, she was just old with a bunch of fatty tumors).
Today, I am here as a guest of NYC Birth Village Doulas and so happy to have a chance to explain more to you about how we use acupuncture + Chinese medicine to support pregnancy and overall health. I encourage you to get in touch with questions so I can explain more or help you find an experienced practitioner, a short and safe commute from you.

What is acupuncture?

Sometimes, the term acupuncture refers to –– you guessed it –– the physical act of acupuncture: hair-thin needles placed into specific, electrically active points to elicit a variety of responses from your brain and body.

Just as often, the term acupuncture is used to refer to the practice of Chinese medicine as a whole. Traditional Chinese Medicine is a complete medical system, functional in its approach. This means that we ask “why?”, and identify the root causes of imbalance. Traditional Chinese Medicine is a holistic medicine that considers your entire system –– mind and body. We like to call it “the original lifestyle medicine.”

Beyond acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine entails herbal medicine, dietary + exercise therapy, moxibustion (heat therapy), cupping and other manual therapies.

Why might I use acupuncture in my pregnancy?

Acupuncture and Chinese medicine are really good at filling in for the deficiencies of Western medicine and treating conditions that you wouldn’t necessarily run to your doctor for –– or conditions that your doctor wouldn’t have much of an answer for beyond writing a prescription. As we know, many of the pharmaceuticals we lean on normally often aren’t an option in pregnancy.

To put it simply, acupuncture triggers the body’s innate healing response. Depending on what we are targeting, acupuncture works on the electrical, chemical, and/or physical level.

Acupuncture elicits our body’s feel good hormones, increases circulation and helps our body move into the “rest + digest” (parasympathetic) state where all healing and recovery take place.

Acupuncture is not only extremely safe, but also useful for a variety of pregnancy symptoms such as:

  • digestive discomfort (such as nausea, constipation, heartburn)
  • headaches + sinus pressure
  • anxiety + depression
  • insomnia
  • pain (such as sciatica, round ligament + pubic symphysis dysfunction)

How does acupuncture address a breech presentation?

With any online research, you’ll quickly learn that in order to address a breech presentation, your acupuncturist will burn an herb called mugwort (this process is called moxibustion) at the edge of the pinky toe, specifically at the acupuncture point BL 67. Sounds a bit odd, right? Yes, but it’s simple as to why it might help your baby reposition. The heat at this point may stimulate fetal movement. In my 13 years of experience, I have seen that if the acupuncture + moxibustion alone do not work in time, the treatments help improve the success rate of an external cephalic version (if that’s what your doctor deems as the next step).

Note that if your baby is still breech at the beginning of week 34, we like to start treatment then. Acupuncture + moxibustion tend to be most successful between weeks 34-37.

What else?

Acupuncture can serve as an incredible way to prepare your body (and your mind) for labor. As your body shifts, so do the treatments. We aid the body in increasing the necessary hormones (like oxytocin + prostaglandins), relaxing the pelvic floor and correcting any other imbalances so that when the baby is ready, so are you.

Last but certainly not least, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can be an invaluable part of post-labor recovery, helping with:

  • healing of tissues (incision/tearing)
  • promoting lactation
  • improving blood production

recalibrating hormones as the body transitions from pregnancy through labor + delivery

Though it depends on the individual and her health history, mothers should expect to seek treatment for 3-5 weeks in order to see health improvements.

Be in touch! And happy motherhood!


Liz (

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