Acupuncture during pregnancy

Suffering from severe morning sickness, Vicki Febery decided to investigate acupuncture as an alternative to conventional medicines. She shares her skin-tingling experience.

Karma! It struck and struck hard. I believe that I deserved to suffer horrendously with morning sickness. Coming from a robust, healthy family where a year could go by without a single family member seeing a doctor, my experience with sickness is reasonably limited and my tolerance of it is low.  I recall being seven weeks pregnant with my first child and feeling great. I expressed to a friend my belief that "morning sickness is clearly all in the mind…" within just a few days, I was vomiting several times a day and had the "foggy hangover" feeling until 11am each day and from 6pm each night.  Yep, I had brought it upon myself and was being taught a lesson for my arrogance and lack of empathy.

If I thought the first pregnancy was rough, it didn't hold a bar to what I suffered with baby number two. From eight weeks, I was vomiting up to five times a day, including waking suddenly each morning around 2am to vomit; I was bringing up blood and feeling thoroughly rotten.

At eleven weeks, my specialist prescribed me Zofran (an anti-nausea drug) in an effort to halt the bringing up of blood. I was reluctant to take the drugs - it had taken so long to become pregnant again and I was hesitant to pop any pills;  I wanted to try natural remedies before resorting to medical ones. Several people recommended acupuncture to me, and I was able to get an appointment the following day with a registered acupuncturist who was experienced in treating pregnant women.

I asked my acupuncturist lots of questions about acupuncture and how it works. She explained that there are two main philosophies of acupuncture taught in New Zealand: The traditional Chinese teachings and the western teachings taught as complementary training to traditional medical practitioners. Perhaps it's my western upbringing that makes it hard to understand how sticking needles in your body actually achieves all the things it does, but I'm buoyed by the fact that my experience was nothing short of amazing, and that between the western and Chinese approaches, there is plenty of evidence to support its effectiveness.

The western philosophy looks at ongoing scientific research to isolate and verify the impact of acupuncture on the nervous system at a local level. Chinese acupuncture, on the other hand, treats the "entire person" and relies on thousands of years of empirical evidence for its efficacy. It commences with the acupuncturist checking your pulses and asking for a full medical history in order to treat the entire person, not the individual local symptom.

You often hear people in New Zealand society refer to acupuncture as a "new age" treatment, however traditional Chinese acupuncture has been practised as a therapeutic technique for more than 3,000 years. The emphasis in Chinese medicine is on maintaining health and preventing disease. Its underlying principle is on maintaining free flow of qi (life energy) within the body and maintaining balance of yin and yang. By checking pulses and getting the full medical history of a patient, Chinese acupuncturists look for and treat blockages in qi, rather than focusing on an isolated complaint (for example, back pain). By promoting the circulation of qi, acupuncture can activate the body's own healing mechanisms to interrupt patterns of illness and bring about balance and harmony.

The question most people want answered when you mention acupuncture is "Does it hurt?" I can emphatically say "no!" I had five or six treatments in total, with approximately 20 needles inserted each time in various places (ranging from the top of the head - really, I kid you not! - to the side of my little toe) in each session. The needles are extremely fine and made of sterile stainless steel, you barely notice them going in. Prior to the needles being inserted, my treatment started each time with a massage, concentrating on my shoulders. If you can handle a massage, you can definitely cope with acupuncture, that was the part of the treatment I felt the most. The needles themselves were virtually undetectable. I did develop some small round bruises in the days following the treatments, but that was the extent of my discomfort.

Not only did the acupuncture make a world of difference to my nausea - I went from being sick three to five times a day to not vomiting for three days following my first treatment - I also felt extremely relaxed afterwards. In fact, in my first session, I fell asleep half way through my treatment.  I recall my practitioner telling me as she left the room that she'd be back to remove the needles protruding from my body in 20 minutes… and then she was walking back through the door. Twenty minutes had passed and I swear I'd merely blinked. If it wasn't for the wee dribble coming out of the corner of my mouth (I was that relaxed), I'd never have believed it!

Some people report feeling slightly worse after their first treatment of acupuncture, but it tends to come right with further appointments in most cases. For me, it was effective from the outset. I saw the acupuncture practitioner once a week through until 17 weeks. The break in my vomiting meant my oesophagus had a chance to recover and I stopped bringing up blood. I felt like a totally different (better!) person following the treatment each week. Not only did my nausea improve, but an old sporting injury which has given me trouble for years is now  a thing of the past.

My specialist and midwife were delighted that complementary medicine had assisted in my wellbeing and comfort. My specialist commented that as a medical doctor he is trained to prescribe drugs to treat symptoms, but that he has seen acupuncture work time after time for his patients and is a personal advocate of it. I am very pleased I chose to take friends' advice ahead of filling my prescription. It worked for me.

How can I find an acupuncturist?
The NZ Register of Acupuncturists inc (NZRA) has an extremely helpful website (, with a database of registered practitioners by region and a list of Frequently Asked Questions.





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