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Complementary therapy during pregnancy

9-minute read

Key facts

  • Complementary therapies are therapies used alongside conventional medical treatment that your doctor prescribes.
  • Alternative therapies are therapies used instead of conventional medicine.
  • Talk to your doctor before starting any complementary or alternative therapies to check if they are safe and appropriate for you.
  • There is an increasing trend to turn to complementary therapies to manage common complaints and issues during pregnancy, labour and birth including morning sickness, labour preparation and low back pain.
  • The safety and effectiveness of many complementary therapies such as homeopathy, naturopathy, and biofeedback training are not well-established.

What are complementary therapies?

Complementary therapies, including acupuncture, chiropractic therapy, and herbal supplements, may be used alongside conventional medicine. They are usually not part of regular care that your doctor prescribes, but some of these treatments have research-backed benefits for both body and mind.

It's important to note that alternative therapies, which are used instead of conventional medicine, often lack proven effectiveness. They can also be harmful if they delay necessary treatments.

In contrast, integrative medicine combines conventional medicine with evidence-based complementary therapies.

Why do some people use complementary therapies during pregnancy?

There is an increasing trend to turn to complementary therapies to manage common complaints and issues during pregnancy, labour and birth including:

Check with your doctor or midwife about the safety and effectiveness of any complementary therapy and if they recommend you try it. You can also ask your doctor or nurse for recommendations of complementary health practitioners.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

What questions should I ask complementary health practitioners?

Before you take advice from a complementary health practitioner, there are some key questions you might like to ask:

  • What are your qualifications? How long have you been practising?
  • How does this treatment work? Is there evidence this treatment is effective?
  • What risks or side effects are involved?
  • How long should this treatment be used for? How will I know if it's working?
  • What are the costs of the treatment? Can I claim the cost on Medicare or from my private health insurance?

What are types of complementary therapies?

There are many types of complementary therapies available during pregnancy. Some have a strong evidence base, while for others, evidence is lacking.

Acupuncture or acupressure

There is some evidence that acupuncture during pregnancy and birth might help reduce:

If used appropriately, very few adverse (unwanted) events are associated with acupuncture. Mild pain from the needles is the most common side effect.


There is some evidence that chiropractic therapy during pregnancy might reduce lower back and pelvic pain.

There is limited evidence regarding the safety of chiropractic therapy in pregnancy.

Relaxation massage

There is some evidence that massage may have positive effects during pregnancy, including:

  • reducing stress
  • reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • reducing leg and back pain
  • improving sleep

During labour, massage may help you manage labour pain.

If you have a massage while pregnant, the therapist will usually avoid massaging your abdomen (tummy) directly. If you have a massage while you're laying down, it is best to be positioned on your side rather than on your front or flat on your back. Lying flat on your back from about 28 weeks of pregnancy can cause your uterus to put pressure on the large vein that runs from your legs to your heart. This can reduce blood flow to the placenta.


There is limited research regarding the safety and health benefits of reflexology during pregnancy. There are some studies that show that reflexology is probably effective and safe for labour pain, duration of labour, and anxiety in pregnancy, but strong supportive evidence is not yet available. Ask your doctor or midwife before having reflexology during pregnancy.


There is limited research regarding the safety and any benefits of naturopathy during pregnancy. Ask your doctor before having naturopathy during pregnancy.

Hypnotherapy (hypnosis)

There is limited research on the benefits of hypnotherapy during pregnancy.

You can safely practice hypnotherapy during pregnancy and birth, but more research is needed to fully understand if there are benefits.

Biofeedback training

Biofeedback training aims to help you recognise body signals such as heart rate or tense muscles. This may help you adjust your physical responses during labour.

There is limited high-quality evidence to prove this is effective for reducing labour pain.

What types of complementary medicines might I consider taking during pregnancy?

Certain vitamin and mineral supplements are recommended during pregnancy, including those containing:

If you are interested in taking any other vitamins, minerals or herbal supplements during pregnancy, be sure to discuss them with your doctor or midwife first. Some vitamin and mineral supplements can be harmful to take during pregnancy.

If you have questions about taking medicines while you a pregnant you can call 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) from 9am to 5pm AET, Monday to Friday. This service is staffed by registered pharmacists.


Herbal preparations commonly taken during pregnancy, often in the form of herbal teas include:

  • raspberry leaf — usually consumed during the last trimester to prepare the body for birth
  • chamomile — for its relaxing effect

Herbal medicines, although natural, are not necessarily safe especially during pregnancy. Many herbal medicines do not have evidence to support their safety or effectiveness. Ask your doctor or midwife about any herbal preparations you plan to take.


Homeopathy is based on the idea that a tiny dose of a substance thought to cause symptoms in a healthy person can treat those symptoms in someone who is unwell.

According to the National Health and Medical Research Council, there's no reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective for any health conditions.

What other therapies are there?

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)

TENS is sometimes used to help relieve pain in pregnancy. TENS therapy is considered safe in all 3 trimesters of pregnancy.

Some complementary therapies are no longer claimable on private health insurance. This means you would have to pay the full fee for these treatments:

  • Alexander technique, Feldenkrais, kinesiology
  • aromatherapy
  • Bowen therapy, reflexology, shiatsu
  • Buteyko
  • western herbalism, homeopathy, naturopathy
  • iridology
  • Pilates, tai chi, yoga

Resources and support

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2023

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Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

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