by Mary Vincent, L.Ac.
Acupuncture can be very effective in helping to curb and decrease the severity of nausea caused by a variety of reasons, including “morning sickness”, which affects up to 90% of all women during pregnancy. Morning sickness refers to the nausea that can occur in the early stages of pregnancy, which is often accompanied by strong aversions to foods or smells, and sometimes includes vomiting. Morning sickness can occur at any time of the day or night and usually occurs between 6 and 14 weeks of pregnancy.
At BCA, we treat many women during pregnancy for morning sickness. We find it especially effective not only in helping decrease the level of nausea experienced, but in the severity and length of morning sickness overall. Treatment frequency depends on the severity of the individual’s symptoms, with more intense nausea and vomiting often initially requiring several treatments in a row. Mild nausea is typically controlled with 1-2 treatments a week until the nausea ceases.
Additionally, things that can be done at home to help with these uncomfortable symptoms include:
* Eating small meals and snacks frequently often helps keep nausea at bay. Bland, starchy foods are typically best at decreasing nausea, but you should eat whatever sounds appetizing.
* Eat some soda crackers or salty chips 10-15 mins before getting out of bed in the morning. Some women find this helps settle the stomach before attempting a first meal.
* Stay hydrated. Drink small sips of fluids throughout the day. Dehydration will cause nausea to worsen. Some women find beverages with lemon or ginger help settle their stomachs. Eating or juicing watermelon can help as well.
* Take your prenatal vitamin at night.
A randomized, controlled study from 2002 that followed 583 women less than 14 weeks pregnant with nausea or vomiting found acupuncture to be particularly effective in reducing nausea and dry retching. Additionally, a systematic review from 2006 found that stimulation of a commonly used acupuncture point for nausea produced physical changes in the body. Observed changes related to gastric myoelectrical activity, vagal modulation, and cerebellar vestibular activities suggest these mechanisms of action are the reason behind the positive effect acupuncture has in decreasing nausea.
While the precise cause of morning sickness is not yet known, it is thought to be the result of increasing levels of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), a hormone produced during pregnancy, and at the highest rate during the first trimester. Morning sickness is considered a sign of a healthy pregnancy, and that the placenta is developing well. Researchers have found that women who experience morning sickness have less rates of miscarriage, premature births, and congenital malformations. However, it should be noted that not having morning sickness is certainly not a sign that the pregnancy isn’t still completely healthy.
Morning sickness at its most extreme is known as hyperemesis gravidarum, which is severe and persistent nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. It is a serious condition which only occurs in 1-2% of pregnancies, and can lead to weight loss, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalances if not properly treated, and can sometimes require IV fluid and antiemetics to bring it under control. Even with severity of these symptoms, acupuncture can still help. A study from 2002 found that women that received real acupuncture in conjunction with standard treatment recovered faster than those that received placebo acupuncture with standard treatment.