Acupuncture Helpful for Threatened Miscarriages
Another issue for couples who are having difficulty in having a child is the issue of miscarriage or spontaneous abortion.
Western Medicine's Wait-and-See Approach
Western medicine mostly takes a wait-and-see attitude about a threatened miscarriage, a common complication of early pregnancy. Any vaginal bleeding other than brief spotting is considered to be a symptom of a threatened miscarriage. About 20% of all pregnant women have some bleeding during the first trimester of pregnancy and half of those women continue with a normal pregnancy. Sometimes pain or cramping accompanies the bleeding, and if the cervix dilates, then bleeding is heavier along with cramps and a miscarriage is considered inevitable.
Furthermore, a threatened miscarriage carries with it the threat of membranes breaking (waters breaking), premature babies, early delivery, babies with low birth weights, and the mother hemorrhaging after delivery.
Doctors typically simply recommend acetaminophen for pain, avoiding aspirin, ibuprofin and naproxen (which reduce clotting and increase bleeding risk). A few trials have suggested that treatment with progesterone may reduce the risk of miscarriage but sample sizes were too small to accurately evaluate the results. Progesterone also increase the risk of abnormalities in the newborns.1 Another preferred treatment by Western medical providers is that of bed rest - but the research does not find much difference in patients who take bed rest and those who do not - nor is it significant whether bed rest is taken at home or in a medical facility.2
Improving Pregnancy Outcomes with Acupuncture
Treatment with acupuncture has been found to lessen many of the symptoms and reduce complication risks during pregnancy. In the first trimester it helps reduce morning sickness, fatigue and helps prevent miscarriage. In the second trimester, it helps promote development of the baby. In the third trimester it helps prepare the mother's body for delivery by reducing pain, anxiety, exhaustion, and helps in pain management, the health of the cervix and the effectiveness of contractions during delivery.
Improving Pregnancy Outcome in Threatened Miscarriage
It is well known that providing proper nutrition, supportive lifestyle habits and supportive prenatal care to pregnant women improves live birth outcomes generally and reduces the threat of miscarriage. A 20123 study examined the effectiveness of acupuncture in helping prevent miscarriage when the patient receives prenatal acupuncture care during the first trimester of pregnancy.
The ancient science of acupuncture began to specifically address women's health issues such as fertility, pregnancy and postpartum health during the Song Dynesty (960-1279). Writers of that era pointed to the importance of a woman's general health for a successful pregnancy and established Traditional Chinese Medicine protocols for both pregnancy and treatment for vaginal bleeding during the first trimester of pregnancy. These early recommendations and others are the basis for the currently established acupuncture treatment protocols for treating threatened miscarriage.
The authors of the 2012 study write that the prior reported studies were inadequate according to Western standards with insufficient controls, sample size and other criteria. They point out, however, that the research about fertility related issues with acupuncture treatment shed some light on the matter. For example, reputable research has been conducted that demonstrates that women receiving prenatal acupuncture treatment are more relaxed and calm and feel more in control of their health4.
Another study found, of women receiving IVF, that the patients (compared to controls) experienced beneficial hormonal changes and markedly lower miscarriage rates.5
Maternal Stress a Risk Factor for Threatened Miscarriage
Maternal stress is known to be a risk factor in pregnancy complications. A number of studies of women who have miscarried reports that they experience high levels of mental or physical stress during early pregnancy or at the time of conception. Scientists have identified a possible chain reaction of stress hormones and other chemicals (such as BPA6) that damage the uterus and fetus, leading to miscarriage.
When a pregnant woman feels stress the brain releases a number of hormones, one of which is corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). Researchers have found that babies born prematurely or of low birth rate have high levels of this hormone in their blood. In addition to being produced during stressful periods, CRH is produced in the placenta and uterus and triggers contractions. The new research finds that CRH is also produced elsewhere in the body and targets abundant mast cells in the uterus to secrete other bio-chemicals that can cause a miscarriage.
Acupuncturists, by providing acupuncture care as well as diet and lifestyle recommendations help make the mother more relaxed and comfortable with her pregnancy - lessening her level of maternal stress, and consequently reducing her risk of threatened miscarriage.
Hormone-Allergy Connection to Miscarriage
In women who miscarry high levels of CRH and urocortin are found only in mast cells in the uterus - not in the general bloodstream. Mast cells are part of the immune system and contain granules of histamine and heparin. They have an important allergic-reaction role as well as a protective role in the body. When they are activated by allergens they release chemicals causing an inflammatory reponse as well as other responses.
In the uterus, when activated by CRH and urocortin, mast cells secrete a bio-chemical called tryptase that destroys tissue, disrupts the activity of the placenta in nourishing the baby and so causes a miscarriage.
Acupuncture has been demonstrated to reduce allergic and inflammatory responses in general, and reduces the expression of tryptase in particular.7
A Holistic Approach
The acupuncturist who has been trained in women's issues and particularly in issues surrounding fertility, pregnancy and postpartum health is well placed to help the prenatal mother maintain good physical and emotional health during her pregnancy. This is the solid foundation for a positive outcome that reduces the risk of miscarriage.
1. H.A. Wahabi, et al, Progestogen for treating threatened miscarriage, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, December, 2011.
2. A. Aleman, et al, Bed rest during pregnancy for preventing miscarriage, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2005.
3. Debra Betts, et al, Acupuncture treatment as a therapeutic treatment option for threatened miscarriage, BMC Complementary Alternative Medicine, March, 2012.
4. C. A. Smith, The effect of acupuncture on psychosocial outcomes for women experiencing infertility; Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine, 2011
5. P.C. Magerelli, et al, Changes in serum cortisol and prolactin associated with acupuncture during controlled ovarian hyperstimulation in women undergoing in vitro fertilitizatoin-embryo transfer treatment, Fertility & Sterility, 2009
6. A. Veiga-Lopez, et al, Impact of gestitational bisphonol A on oxidative stress and free fatty acids, Endocrinology, March, 2015
7. T.F. He, Effects of acupuncture on the number and degranulation ratio of mast cells and expression of tryptase in synovium of rats with adjuvant arthritis, Zhong Hi Yi Jie He Zue Bau, July, 2010.