Acupuncture provides effective support for patients experiencing migraine and headaches in pregnancy and postpartum.
Patients who have a history of Migraine disease often feel anxious as they go into unknown territory with pregnancy and postpartum. The good news is that many patients will find relief from their migraine in pregnancy. Unfortunately this isn’t the case for all patients. For some, they will continue to have migraine throughout their pregnancy and postpartum. In some cases, patients with no previous history may experience migraine and headache for the first time in pregnancy or after birth. The frequency and severity of pain can range from mild to intense. Unfortunately there is risk with many preventative and prophylactic medications in pregnancy or with breastfeeding, so many patients don’t have the option to take the medications that normally work for them.
Acupuncture is Safe in Pregnancy
Acupuncture continues to be researched around the world as a natural approach to treat many medical conditions. Acupuncture has been shown to be safe in pregnancy. In all the studies to date on the use of acupuncture in pregnancy, none of these studies have shown any adverse affects from acupuncture.
Acupuncture for Migraine and Headache in Pregnancy
Currently there is one small study published in 2012 from the European Journal of Integrative Medicine that studied acupuncture to treat tension-type headache in pregnancy. The researchers found that patients treated with acupuncture had lower pain scores and used less medication than the control group. The patients treated with acupuncture also reported improved mood and sleep during treatment.
When a patient comes in with Migraine and headache, I first assess their overall health. I often make dietary and other natural recommendations that may help during this time. I determine the East Asian Medicine diagnosis and choose acupuncture points that help restore balance. I may also recommend complementary therapies that can be combined with acupuncture to maximize the results. These may include physical therapy, massage, or osteopathic treatments to align and balance the body.
My approach is integrative. I work in conjunction with medical providers, like OBs and neurologists to help patients find the best approach to manage their symptoms safely and effectively. It is important that patients speak to their doctor about the safety of medications in pregnancy and create a plan for how to manage the pain during a migraine attack.
Acupuncture and Frequency of Treatments
During the acupuncture treatment, I typically have pregnant patients lay on their side propped comfortably with pillows. I have a very gentle and effective acupuncture technique to make the treatment as comfortable as possible. Patients have the choice to listen to soothing music as they lay on the table for 20-30 minutes.
Acupuncture has a cumulative effect. Although some patients notice a major shift after a single treatment, most patients will need several treatments to feel a difference. Many patients experience a decrease in the frequency and severity of the pain to a more manageable situation. Some patients experience complete resolution which is always wonderful.
If you want to try acupuncture for Migraine and headaches, I recommend acupuncture treatments one to two times per week for the first two weeks to help shift the symptoms. After that, many patients will need less frequent maintenance appointments to keep the symptoms manageable.
The side benefit of the acupuncture is that in addition to pain relief, patients report feeling relaxed, rested, and a sense of well-being after the treatments.
For patients with migraine in pregnancy and postpartum, these are my recommended self-care tips that may help decrease the frequency and severity of migraine:
- Rest. Pregnancy is a time to slow down and listen to your body. It’s helpful if you can organize flexibility with your schedule to include rest if needed during the day.
- Sleep. Prioritize sleep in pregnancy. (I know in pospartum, this is much harder to manage!). You may find that you need more sleep than before pregnancy in order to stay balanced and well.
- Stay hydrated. Make sure to drink water at regular intervals.
- Manage Stress. Lighten your schedule and work load so that you have time for daily self-care. Listen to relaxing music and guided relaxation recordings. Reach out to friends and family for support to help with tasks.
- Eat regular meals at regular intervals. Keep your blood sugar levels stable by eating protein with meals and snacks. Prevent skipping meals or going too long between meals. You may find yourself needing to eat more frequently than before pregnancy.
- A cold compress/ice pack on the area of pain to numb the area. This doesn’t necessarily stop the pain, but it can bring some relief to help you manage the pain.
- Keep your neck and spine healthy and relaxed. Incorporate gentle stretching on a daily basis and focus on healthy posture. A heated neck pillow can feel lovely to loosen and relax neck muscles.
Studies on Acupuncture safety in pregnancy:
2019. Moon HY and MR Kim et al. Safety of acupuncture during pregnancy: A retrospective cohort study in Korea. BJOG (British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology). The study analyzed 20,799 pregnant women.
2014. Park Jimin and Sohn Youngjoo et al. The safety of acupuncture during pregnancy: a systematic review. Acupuncture in Medicine. The study analyzed 105 studies.