There are many potential causes of pain during pregnancy, some directly related to pregnancy such as symphysis pubis dysfunction, some more coincidental such as headache, toothache and back ache. Research suggests that the majority of pregnant women resort to taking either ibuprofen or paracetamol at some point during their pregnancy but many do so reluctantly. Both of these substances are known to cross the placenta into the foetal circulation; the general advice is to take as little as possible for as short a time as you can.
Is Paracetamol Safe in Early Pregnancy?
A news article has circulated in the popular press in April 2018 about the use of paracetamol or ibuprofen during pregnancy with headlines such as ‘Taking paracetamol during pregnancy may make grandchildren infertile’.
A recent study explores the effect of taking ibuprofen or paracetamol during pregnancy; the conclusion of this study was that there is evidence to show that even minimal exposure to these common over-the-counter medicines can alter cells in the reproductive organs of the developing foetus (Hurtado-Gonzalez et al, 2018).
In a selection of studies on animals it was found that if the male foetus was exposed to ibuprofen, paracetamol or aspirin it could reduce foetal testosterone leading to issues such as incomplete descent of one or both testicles. In the female foetus it was shown that small amounts of paracetamol were associated with a 40-50% reduction in foetal germ cells (egg producing cells) in the ovaries of the foetus, and smaller ovaries in subsequent adults. These findings were tested in various ways and the findings were consistent. While the NHS suggests that women avoid taking ibuprofen during pregnancy, the official line is that paracetamol is safe to take during pregnancy and that there is no clear undisputable evidence yet to suggest it is not. It remains to be seen whether this advice will be reviewed in light of this new study.
So what can you do for pain during pregnancy?
As a licensed acupuncturist with specialist training in acupuncture through the antenatal period, I would wholeheartedly recommend acupuncture. A large data review was undertaken in 2014 which indicated acupuncture to be a safe treatment during pregnancy (Park et al 2014). As in intervention, acupuncture can be really effective for a wide variety of pain conditions such as musculoskeletal pain of symphysis pubis dysfunction, back pain, neck pain and headaches and other causes of pain such as sinusitis, headaches etc. As well as offering a non-toxic, drug-free treatment for pain, acupuncture treatment during pregnancy can also offer other ‘side-effects’ such as improved energy, improved mood and better sleep.
The Beautiful Baby Point!
There is a point on the body that is traditionally referred to as the ‘Beautiful Baby Point’! It is meant to be needled in a single needle treatment with a fine, gold needle as the pregnancy moves from the first to second trimester, and again between the second and third trimester. In the late 1800s one of the early translators of Chinese texts claimed this point does the following:
"gives the child an especially luminous complexion, the child will sleep at night, laugh during the day, does not get sick or if he does, the cure is within a few hours or days, according to the case. The child will have none of the bad characteristics of the parents, but rather a healthy mind, morale and body." [SOULIÉ DE MORANT]
I have considered ordering some special gold needles just for this, however I have yet to find any classical source for such claims!
Hurtado-Gonzalez P, Anderson RA, Macdonald J, van den Driesche S, Kilcoyne K, Jørgensen A, McKinnell C, Macpherson S, Sharpe RM, and Mitchell RT. Effects of Exposure to Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen on Fetal Germ Cell Development in Both Sexes in Rodent and Human Using Multiple Experimental Systems Environ Health Perspect; 2018;126(4)DOI:10.1289/EHP2307
Park J, Sohn Y, White AR, Lee H. The safety of acupuncture during pregnancy: a systematic review. Acupuncture in Medicine. 2014;32(3):257-266. doi:10.1136/acupmed-2013-010480.