When you’re dealing with morning sickness, (a euphemism for what’s really all-day sickness), otherwise known as nausea and vomiting in pregnancy (NVP), it feels like you’ll try anything to just keep a little food down. From ginger chews to vitamin B6 to probiotics to eating a sleeve of Saltines right when you wake up, there’s no one universal method—and what works for your sister or friend may (sadly) do nothing for you.
Oftentimes, it’s a combination of supplements and eating patterns—and, yes, waiting it out: morning sickness usually vanishes around week 14—that helps relieve symptoms. But some research shows that using ear seeds, an acupressure treatment rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) could offer some benefit. All in, there’s very little downside to trying ear seeds for morning sickness: they’re so small and discreet and not Saltines that it feels like a win.
What are ear seeds?
“Ear seeds work in the same way as traditional acupuncture by stimulating a specific point in the ear to help evoke change,” Dr. Brittany Schneider, DACM, L.Ac, Dipl. O.M., an acupuncturist at ORA in New York City, tells Motherly. But unlike acupuncture, no needles are involved in ear seeding. Sometimes called auriculotherapy, the practice of ear seeding involves placing small stickers with tiny beads (or actual seeds) at certain points on the ear, and keeping them there for days or even weeks.
Ear seeding can be used to treat and prevent a variety of conditions, including anxiety, insomnia, nausea, vomiting, or chronic pain, Dr. Schneider says. While clinical research is limited, some studies show that it has been effective in alleviating nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. One randomized, double-blind controlled study found ear seeds provided significant nausea relief in pregnancy, though they did not provide relief from vomiting.
Who should try ear seeds in pregnancy?
Still, any reduction in nausea can be impactful. “Anyone can benefit from ear seeding,” Dr. Schneider says. “If a patient is pregnant and experiencing morning sickness, ear seeding can be done to help eliminate some of the side effects.” In TCM, the ears reflect the conditions of internal organs or pathology. “Depending on the condition or symptoms a patient is experiencing, certain points on the ears can become tender or show changes in size or color. Acupuncturists use those signs along with other diagnostic tools to help determine where to apply the ear seeds to best help the patient,” she notes.
You can try placing ear seeds yourself (we like the ORA Acupressure Kit or the new Bodily Pregnancy Kit, both of which include ear seeds), but Dr. Schneider recommends speaking with a licensed acupuncturist beforehand just to ensure you’re putting them in the right spot.
“There are certain points on the ear, as well as body points, that are avoided early on in pregnancy due to the fact that they have a strong down-bearing sensation, which can induce labor,” Dr. Schneider notes.
She likes to use ear seeds as an extension to acupuncture treatments. “I use ear seeds to help prolong a treatment until the patient can return for another session. Especially for pregnant women dealing with morning sickness, I like to end their session with ear seeds so they can stimulate the pressure points on their own days after the treatment.”
Ear seeds are meant to be touched—lightly pressing on them can stimulate the points beneath, increasing the effects. In general, there are very few side effects when using ear seeds for morning sickness, Dr. Schneider notes. “However, like anything, some people can experience skin tenderness or skin irritation from the adhesive the ear seeds are connected to.”
Ultimately, ear seeds are a low-cost and low-intervention option that might work to relieve morning sickness in some people, making them worth trying, a spokesperson from Bodily says. Especially if you’ve had no real luck from other morning sickness remedies—or you’re really over eating Saltines.