The best morning sickness trick: acupuncture

Dr. Erika Krumbeck

Hello! My name is Dr. Erika Krumbeck (or “Dr. K” to my littlest patients). I am a naturopathic doctor and licensed primary care physician in the state of Montana.I specialize in pediatrics, infertility and postpartum women.Most importantly - I am a Mom! I am passionate about providing accurate, helpful medical information for you and your family.I love sharing the latest research in medicine, debunking health myths, and providing an unbiased voice for controversial topics.This blog is also full of natural ways to safely heal yourself and your children.

I hate morning sickness.  When I was pregnant with Annika I was sick for four and a half months.  It was awful.  My “morning” sickness lasted all day, every day, despite all the best “remedies.”  I tried ginger, sea-bands, lemon wedges, eating in the morning, B6, preggie pops, keeping my blood sugar up, and every combination of nausea herbs in pill, tea or tincture form.  The little ginger chews ended up making me nauseous because I ate so many of them.  At that point Annika was 99% composed of nectarines and blueberries, the only things I could stomach.  I lost weight instead of gaining.

It got better after 12 weeks, but when the 4-month mark hit and I still was nauseous I started getting really frustrated.  My husband knows that one of my biggest fears in life is throwing up.  (In the middle of labor – going through transition – I remember turning to my midwife and saying “I’m just really afraid of throwing up.”  Not the pain, just throwing up!) So while I only puked once, I spent many weeks anxiously keeping my “meals” down.

My midwife told me to try acupuncture.  At every visit.  I ignored her.  The thought of needles in my sensitive pregnant body was enough to make me cringe.

Finally, desperate, I went to the Bastyr acupuncture department and asked for the most gentle treatment they could give me.  Surprisingly, they used no needles and instead did an indirect moxa treatment (basically a gentle way of heating the acupuncture points rather than needling them.)  I walked out feeling like a different person, no joke.

I want to share my experience with my patients and readers because acupuncture has the potential to dramatically improve the quality of life of a pregnant patient.  I desperately wish I had started earlier and saved myself weeks of grief.

For those who don’t understand it, acupuncture is basically the use of very fine, single-use, sterile needles (as small as a hair!) to stimulate different points in the body.  These points are thought to be reflexively associated with different organ systems – so by stimulating certain points you may influence the function of, say, the stomach.

Acupuncture can be hard for us “western-minded” people to understand, especially because Traditional Chinese Medicine (the educational foundation for most acupuncturists in the U.S.) uses a lot of poetic speech to describe pathology.  So I brought along a friend to help us decode it.

HeatherEllsworth.03Meet Heather. (Hi Heather!)

Heather is an acupuncture practitioner at Mountain Sage Acupuncture here in Missoula. Heather is unique in that she has extensive experience in women’s health, fertility, obstetrics and gynecology. (Yea!) She completed post-graduate training in women’s health, and even worked at a birthing center in Portland.

Heather also does a Japanese-style of acupuncture, which uses fewer and finer-gauge needles than traditional acupuncture.

So here is Heather’s view on acupuncture and why it works.  “Acupuncture is essentially about balance.  It looks at each person’s unique presentation to form a diagnosis based on the patients’ constitution.  Chinese medicine meets the patient where they are at, and helps balance these symptoms by providing support where the system is weak, and providing movement or transformation where there is excess.  This is why four different women can come to an acupuncturist with morning sickness but they will all receive different treatment protocols that support their individual constitution and the underlying reason for the morning sickness- it’s not just treating symptoms but also treating the root cause of the disease.”

So for those of you who think this sounds completely crazy (and Dr. Erika the skeptic agrees), there is actually a wealth of scientific research on acupuncture. We know that acupuncture releases pain-relieving endorphins, increases circulation and reduces inflammation.  Researchers believe that many of the acupuncture meridians correspond with myofascial planes (“myo” means muscle and “fascia” is the connective tissue that holds muscle groups together and compartmentalizes organ systems).  Check out this awesome research article.

Another confusing part about acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (usually abbreviated TCM) is the medical terminology.   Remember that TCM is a system of medicine that dates back thousands of years – well before our knowledge of physiology and anatomy were cemented in science. So when we say things like “you have heartburn,” a TCM practitioner would say “you have stomach qi rebellion.”  Heather explains: “Because the Chinese related the workings of the human body to their observation of the natural world; microcosm and macrocosm, the terminology can sound poetic, and why not use poetry when we talk about healing?”

The great part about acupuncture is that it provides individualized treatment, just like naturopathic medicine. So Heather may see ten different women with morning sickness and prescribe ten slightly different treatments.

A big concern of women in pregnancy: is it safe?  “Definitely!” There is a lot of research showing how acupuncture is safe in pregnancy.

Finally, and this is a concern I hear a lot – is acupuncture associated with an Eastern religion? Well, no.  Going to an acupuncturist like Heather is not a religious event – there is no chanting, singing, waving of the arms, or channeling spirits.  I promise you I would never go if it was.  Most acupuncturists I have been to are extremely professional in the way they treat patients.

I really hope I can spare at least one other woman from the frustration of months of nausea.  I promise you, it works! (If you don’t believe me, here is a randomized controlled trial of acupuncture in pregnancy!)

Have you tried acupuncture?  Share your experience!

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(No, Heather did not pay me to write this article.  I wrote it because I like her, and I really like acupuncture.  Thanks.)

Dr. Erika Krumbeck
Dr. Erika Krumbeck
Hello! My name is Dr. Erika Krumbeck (or “Dr. K” to my littlest patients). I am a naturopathic doctor and licensed primary care physician in the state of Montana. I specialize in pediatrics, infertility and postpartum women. Most importantly - I am a Mom! I am passionate about providing accurate, helpful medical information for you and your family. I love sharing the latest research in medicine, debunking health myths, and providing an unbiased voice for controversial topics. This blog is also full of natural ways to safely heal yourself and your children.