Acupuncture for Morning Sickness in Pregnancy

Emily Whitelock - Chinese Medicine Practitioner

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is based upon thousands of years of observation and study which includes an incredibly well-developed system of diagnosis and pathology. From this came the theory of Qi (vital energy) and the meridians in which Qi flows. When Qi is flowing as it is supposed to be, good health results, but when Qi is interrupted, blocked or moves in the wrong direction, health issues can result. 

Can Acupuncture help with morning sickness?
Hmmmm the hang over from hell - morning sickness. Nothing like waking up after an early night of candles, relaxation and tiny bump lovin’ and BAM! hello nausea, thanks hormones. More like 24/7 sickness, seriously whoever named that just created more disappointment for us women with expectations! Morning sickness is one of the most commonly suffered issues and affects 70-85% of most mums to be and if you only get it for 4 or 5 weeks in the first trimester, consider yourself lucky! Unfortunately 15-20% of women get it until the third trimester and and an even unluckier 5% get it until the end of pregnancy….. Hats off to you ladies who are dealing with that, you seriously amaze me!  There is hope though, as Acupuncture can help bring some sweet relief. There are some great clinical trials which finds Acupuncture safe and effective for morning sickness. Acupuncture can provide immediate relief while ear seeds that stimulate acupressure points can provide a continuation of treatment at home. 

What’s going on according to Traditional Chinese Medicine? 
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) at the beginning of pregnancy the natural flow of qi is disrupted as the body deals with many adjustments required to sustain a pregnancy. The vital substances of the body including, the Essence, Blood and Kidney Qi come together to create new life and this change disrupts the natural flow of Qi in the body, namely a block in the penetrating vessel (Chong Mai) meridian of the body, leading to rebellious Stomach Qi which rises up and causes nausea. A pathology of the Liver involving the Stomach causes a more severe nausea and the Spleen and Stomach Qi deficiency pathology causes a milder case of nausea. Depending on how the patient presents, your practitioner will treat you accordingly. 

What are the Vital Substances?
TCM views the body as an interconnected system of channels and pathways, a self-contained system that relies on certain factors to maintain a state of balance and harmony. This is where the Vital Substances travel through the body’s pathways to help maintain its health state. These Vital Substances of TCM physiology that affect yin and yang are;

  • Blood - Underlies the nourishment of the function of Qi and is the physical manifestation of the woman.
  • Bodily fluids - This includes all the fluids of the body, which moisten the skin, hair, joints, organs and allow for smooth movement of joints and other body parts. Yin fluids are thick and line internal organs and cushion the brain and spinal cord, whereas yang fluids are are thinner, for e.g. saliva, sweat and urine. 
  • Essence - This is the vital physical presence or spirit of the body which is is responsible for determining physical growth and development. 
  • Qi - Energy of the body which propels all bodily functions and is responsible for the movement, transformation, warmth and restraint of the blood. 

What’s involved with an Acupuncture treatment for Morning Sickness?
Depending on your specific presentation on the day, your practitioner will select the most effective points to help relieve nausea.  Some of the most commonly points for nausea and morning sickness are;

  • Pericardium 6 - Located on the inside of wrist in the first depression between the tendons approximately 3 fingerbreaths from the wrist crease. This point directly affects the vagus nerve and therefore relieves nausea and vomiting. 
  • Stomach 36 - Located on the lateral side of the shin, in a depression 4 finger breaths beneath the knee cap. This point calms the stomach to relieve nausea by descending Stomach qi (primary cause of nausea), strengthens digestion and promotes generation of Qi of the body. 
  • Gallbladder 34 - Located on the lateral side of the lower leg, below and in front of the head of the fibula bone. Great point for Liver over acting on Stomach related morning sickness. This point moves stagnation in the abdominal region, relieving nausea. 
  • Ren 12 - Located on the midline of the stomach between the belly button and the meeting point of the ribs. This point harmonises the middle Stomach area, tonifies the Stomach and Spleen and descends any rebellious qi, relieving nausea and vomiting. It works well at treating deficient type conditions and commonly involves using moxa - a warming herb. 

    What about Chinese Herbal Medicine for Morning Sickness?
    Chinese herbs are very popular today and are often used in addition to acupuncture treatment. There are several hundred herbs which are part of the Chinese pharmacopeia and are used to create thousands of different formulas for treatment of disease. However, due to the nature of morning sickness many of these formulas are difficult to use, not due to endangering the pregnancy but more due to the unpleasant (putting it lightly) taste of the herbs. Good luck getting that down at 7am. That being said, there some herbs which are contraindicated or cautioned in pregnancy, so its always good to let your practitioner know if you are pregnant. Here are some herbs used as food to help deal with nausea and morning sickness;
  • Ginger - Sheng Jiang - Fresh ginger is commonly used in Chinese medicine to help with digestion, it is warming in nature and is used to reduce the toxicity of other herbs. It is used in cooking or can be taken as a liquid or tea. This literally saved me in my first trimester of pregnancy when I had to get out of bed early and pretend to be a normal human. 
  • Cardamon Seed - Sha Ren - Very effective as it calms the stomach and transforms phlegm, circulates qi and stops vomiting. Sha ren is great for pregnancy as it also ‘calms the foetus’ (another term for preventing miscarriage). You can also grind cardamon up with ginger for an effective anti-nausea tea. 

So, while Acupuncture treatment for morning sickness is aimed at strengthening the energetic function of the digestive system and underlying disharmonies, there are some things you can do outside of treatment to help. Hydration is key when dealing with nausea, as soon as you are slightly dehydrated it will make you feel worse and intensify the nausea. Maintaining blood sugar levels are equally as important - eat small snacks regularly every 1 and 1/2 to 2 hours before that real hungry sets in.  So if you are pregnant and suffering from morning sickness definitely book in to get some acupuncture to see the difference in can make to your day!