The safety of obstetric acupuncture: forbidden points revisited

Acupunct Med. 2015 Oct;33(5):413-9. doi: 10.1136/acupmed-2015-010936. Epub 2015 Sep 11.


Background/aim: Although the safety of acupuncture per se in pregnancy is reasonably well accepted, there remains debate regarding needling at points historically considered to be 'forbidden' during pregnancy. This article reviews the scientific literature on this topic.

Main findings: There is no objective evidence of harm following needling at forbidden points, summarised by the following four lines of evidence. (1) In 15 clinical trials (n=823 women receiving n=4549-7234 acupuncture treatments at one or more forbidden points) rates of preterm birth (PTB) and stillbirth following are equivalent to those in untreated control groups and consistent with background rates of these complications in the general population. (2) Observational studies, including a large cohort of 5885 pregnant women needled at forbidden points at all stage of pregnancy, demonstrate that rates of miscarriage, PTB, preterm prelabour rupture of membranes (PPROM), and preterm contractions (preterm labour (PTL) or threatened PTL) are comparable with untreated controls and/or consistent with their anticipated incidence. (3) There is no reliable evidence that acupuncture/electroacupuncture (EA) can induce miscarriage/labour, even under otherwise favourable circumstances such as post-dates pregnancy or intrauterine fetal death. (4) Laboratory experiments using pregnant rats have demonstrated that repeated EA at forbidden points throughout gestation does not influence rates of post-implantation embryonic demise or cause miscarriage, fetal loss or resorption.

Conclusions: These findings are reassuring and will help individualised risk:benefit assessment before treating pregnant women. Given the numerous evidence-based indications for obstetric acupuncture and lack of evidence of harm, risk:benefit assessments will often fall in favour of treatment.


Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy / adverse effects*
  • Acupuncture Therapy / methods
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome*