Complementary and Alternative Therapies in Pregnancy

Pain relief options during labour

Pregnancy is a very special time but can sometimes bring with it discomfort and worries. Whilst traditional medical treatments are widely used during pregnancy, many also turn to complementary and alternative therapies to support their overall health and wellbeing.

When using complementary and alternative therapies in pregnancy, it is important to consider the benefits and drawbacks of each therapy. Often, complementary and alternative therapies are seen as natural and assumed to be safe, but some therapies can be harmful in pregnancy. When choosing a therapy, it is important to consider how it will affect you and your baby. If you are seeing a practitioner, make sure that they have the appropriate qualifications and insurance to treat you in pregnancy.

Complementary and alternative therapies are often used in pregnancy to aid relaxation, ease pain and discomfort, reduce sickness and nausea, help turn breech babies and prepare for birth.

Popular alternative therapies during pregnancy

The following are popular therapies that can be used during pregnancy.


Acupuncture can be used safely to help resolve a range of difficult conditions during pregnancy. Traditionally, acupuncture is believed to work by re-balancing the energy flow through your body. Research has shown that inserting very fine sterile needles into the skin stimulates nerve endings to transmit signals to the brain, leading to the release of hormones and pain-relieving chemicals like endorphins, oxytocin and serotonin. Acupuncture is also shown to restore wellbeing by increasing blood flow and changing cell chemistry. Acupuncture is often used in pregnancy to help with sickness, pelvic and back pain, relaxation and birth preparation.


    Aromatherapy uses concentrated plant oils called essential oils for therapeutic purposes. There are more than 90 different types of essential oils and each has a unique smell and helps in different ways. Some oils are relaxing and help you sleep, others help lift your mood, and some contain pain-relieving chemicals. Essential oils work in a similar way to medicines, and many should be avoided in pregnancy. Sweet orange, frankincense, and black pepper are essential oils that can be used in pregnancy. When using essential oils it is important to buy them from a reputable shop and ensure they are in a dark glass bottle with an expiry date on them. Essential oils should always be diluted in a carrier oil (like grapeseed oil). No more than 1 drop of essential oil in each 5mls of carrier oil should be used during pregnancy.


      Moxibustion is a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) technique used to help turn your baby from a feet first (breech) position to a head first (cephalic) position. Moxa sticks are made from dried mugwort (Artemisia Argyi) and are used to heat points on your little toes to trigger hormone changes. This enables the muscles in your womb (uterus) to relax and your baby to turn. Research shows that moxibustion can be more successful than ECV (a technique used by doctors to manually turn your baby). Moxibustion is not suitable for everyone in pregnancy and it is important to discuss with the practitioner your full medical history before undertaking.


        Reflexology is a therapy in which a small area of the body (often your feet) is used as a map of the whole body. Gentle pressure is applied to certain points to trigger a response in the corresponding part of your body. Reflexology is often used in pregnancy to reduce pain and anxiety and to promote relaxation and healing in the body.

        Complementary and alternative therapies can be a great way to support your overall health and wellbeing during pregnancy. However, it is important to remember that not all alternative therapies are safe for use during pregnancy, and you should check the therapy is safe for you and your baby before using. With guidance and care, alternative therapies can be a hugely valuable addition to your pregnancy journey.

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