When you find out that you're pregnant, it can bring on a roller coaster of emotions. Joy is hopefully the primary feeling, while cautiousness and stress may come in as a close second. You might also start to wonder what exactly you can and can't do, especially when it comes to alternative therapies, like yoga or acupuncture. We asked the experts what you need to know.
What are alternative therapies?
Alternative therapies refer to health treatments not standard in Western medical practice. This would include examples like yoga, meditation, and reflexology. Alternative therapies offer a natural way to possibly treat certain side-effects of pregnancy, such as back pain, insomnia, and stress.
"With increasing focus and attention being given to mind/body interventions over the past decade, I've definitely seen an increasing trend in people who are interested in and utilizing alternative therapies like yoga and meditation in both the preconception period and during pregnancy," said Ashley Eskew MD, MSCI, FACOG, an ob-gyn in Charlotte, NC. She explains that she is "a big proponent of using alternative therapies like yoga and meditation in the preconception period and throughout pregnancy for overall improved mind/body wellness and stress reduction."
If you are pregnant and want to incorporate some alternative therapies into your life, consider trying some of these safe options.
Should I meditate while pregnant?
Meditation is a safe way for a parent-to-be to possibly manage their stress, help alleviate insomnia, and help meet the physical demands of pregnancy. Taking a few moments to close your eyes and breathe can have some major positive effects on your body and mind. In fact, practicing meditation during pregnancy may actually offer some benefits to your baby as well! A study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in 2014 suggests that there is a positive link between meditation practice during pregnancy and a calmer temperament for the baby once born. Who doesn't want a chill baby?
"Meditation can be a great adjunct to other lifestyle changes to help reduce overall stress and anxiety levels while providing centeredness and focus," Dr. Eskew said. "Meditation can particularly be helpful to use during labor as well. As most meditations have you sitting or lying quietly, they are considered safe during pregnancy."
Is yoga safe to practice during pregnancy?
Yoga is an ancient mind-body practice that, according to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention, has become more popular in recent years. Prenatal yoga workouts are popping up in many yoga studios to support the unique needs of the bump-sporting crowd.
"The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that pregnant people be encouraged to engage in regular moderate physical activity in the absence of indications that it would be inadvisable, so yoga can be a great low-impact option," Dr. Eskew said. She referred to data published by one of the leading journals in the field, Obstetrics and Gynecology, to suggest that yoga has been shown to be safe and effective in pregnancy.
"Practicing yoga during your pregnancy can help you reconnect to your body and allow you to discover a new way to find strength and power within yourself," said Melora Morgan, a RYT 500-certified yoga instructor and owner of Serenity Tree Yoga in Charleston, SC. "Yoga helps to relieve stress, promote mental and emotional balance, decrease back and leg pain, improve circulation, and can help tremendously in teaching you breath work that will help during labor. Yoga will also increase your flexibility, mobility, and balance."
Morgan added that it's always important to check with your healthcare provider before starting any yoga practice, and to be aware of poses that you should avoid in your first trimester, including any inversions, wheel pose, and any intense twists or backbends. Additionally, she cautioned against heated yoga during the first few weeks of pregnancy.
Dr. Eskew echoed the need to modify yoga practices during pregnancy, explaining that she always recommends enrolling specifically in prenatal classes so that expectant parents can learn safe and effective ways to modify postures and avoid injury as their body changes throughout pregnancy. Dr. Eskew also advised that pregnant people "never do anything outside of their comfort zone. With yoga, if something is painful, something isn't right."
Can I try acupuncture while I am pregnant?
Having someone stick long needles into your body may not sound relaxing or therapeutic, but many people swear by acupuncture to relieve certain pregnancy symptoms, including nausea, fatigue, and heartburn. Acupuncture may even help correct situations of fetal breach positioning, according to a study published in Fetal Diagnosis and Therapy Journal.
When all available studies involving acupuncture and pregnancy were evaluated, researchers determined that the risk of any adverse outcome that stems from acupuncture during pregnancy was extremely low. Of course, there are always some risks associated with acupuncture, whether you are pregnant or not, including bruising or pain at the insertion site.
Dr. Eskew noted that acupuncture can potentially be used as a helpful, non-medication treatment for mood-related symptoms when done by a trained professional. She referred to data published in Obstetrics and Gynecology, in which researchers reported as little as eight weeks of acupuncture treatment has been shown to effectively decrease prebirth depression symptom severity.
Can I get a massage during pregnancy?
Unfortunately, aches and pains often come with the territory when a person is pregnant. Massage therapy is a common remedy to relieve uncomfortable muscle aches, reduce stress, and help support circulation during this time.
Massages are generally safe with a few caveats; one being that many massage therapists will not treat a pregnant person until they are safely in their second trimester out of fear of miscarriage, despite no data in the medical literature linking massage to increased miscarriage risk. Ensuring that the therapist you choose is certified in prenatal massage (ask your therapist before booking to make sure!) is a good practice to keep your rub-down as safe as possible.
Another caveat when receiving a massage during pregnancy is making sure that you are using aromatherapy safely. "During pregnancy, you don't want to apply undiluted oils to the body," said Kendra Tolbert, MS, RDN, Cert. AT, Level One certified aromatherapist. "Diluting oils to a 1-percent concentration, or six drops of oil for every one ounce of carrier oil, will go a long way in keeping you safe."
Tolbert lists parsley leaf, anise, oregano, cinnamon bark, Spanish sage, and wintergreen as some aromatherapies that should be avoided during pregnancy.
While there are many options to choose from to incorporate alternative therapies safely, not all get the green light from healthcare providers. You should steer clear from certain herbal therapies while you are expecting, as well as treatments that include excessive heat, unless under the strict guidance and care of your healthcare team.
Dr. Eskew cautioned to "always discuss any alternative therapy with your ob-gyn first, as every individual is different." Additionally, ensuring that your alternative therapy provider is trained to work with pregnant women is an important step to ensure your safety during this precious time.