Acupuncture for Labor Induction: Is It Right For You?
Western vs. Eastern Labor Induction:
Western methods to induce labor include manual “breaking of the water,” manual “sweeping” of the membranes around the cervix, and the use of drugs like oxytocin (Pitocin), or hormones like prostaglandins or relaxin. These drugs are quite effective but can cause very strong contractions and can speed up the process before the baby or mom’s body is ready. The use of drugs often leads to a cascade of additional interventions such as epidurals, episiotomy, vacuum delivery or C-section. Side effects from the drugs can include dizziness, headaches, nausea, and vomiting. The recovery time after C-section and episiotomy is also typically longer than natural births.
Eastern medicine uses certain points that will naturally prepare the body for labor, including prostaglandins, which soften the cervix and oxytocin, which triggers contractions. This natural release of hormones creates a gradual onset of labor, often leading to a smoother, less painful, and less stressful delivery.
I am a huge proponent of Western medicine, however I typically recommend to try the least invasive treatment first if possible. Acupuncture is a great first step for labor preparation, and often ends up being the last.
Does it Work?
Yes! That being said, I have never had a patient’s water break on my table! Acupuncture for labor induction is a subtle but effective treatment option to prepare baby and mom for a safe and smooth delivery. I actually like to call it ‘labor preparation’ because it naturally preps the mom and baby for the birthing process by relaxing the nervous system and reducing stress and anxiety, while stimulating hormone release and uterine contractions. Many of the acupuncture points we are unable to use during pregnancy due to their stimulating effects on the body are the exact ones we do during labor induction. Some of these points are in areas that by this time in the pregnancy are already sore like the upper shoulders and low back. Because it is not a strong medication or harsh manual process, the treatment feels good and is quite relaxing. I often hear that during an acupuncture session is one of the few times in the day when her mind completely shuts off and she is able to relax. This extra boost of rest is important for the energy needed for labor and delivery.
How Fast Does it Work?
Acupuncture works great but differently for every person and every situation. Sometimes the mom and baby are completely ready to go and just need that one special ‘push’ to get things going. I have treated clients that afternoon and they went into labor that evening or early the next morning. I have also had clients who I treated 3x a week and they still needed to be induced with a c-section. I know, everyone wants a number and a timeline! I would say on average I have seen things progress for most people within 2-3 treatments, within 5-7 days. I always say the worst thing that can happen is that nothing happens. (And by ‘nothing happens’, that’s usually no contractions but a better night’s sleep and less pain and discomfort).
One study at the University of North Carolina found that women who got acupuncture were more likely to go into labor without a medical “push.” The study included 56 women who were 39.5 to 41 weeks pregnant. (Forty weeks is full term.) Half of the women got three acupuncture sessions, while the other half did not. Seventy percent of the women who got acupuncture went into labor on their own, compared to 50% who received standard care. The women who got acupuncture were also less likely to deliver by cesarean section — 39% compared to 17%. Another Australian research report showed that using acupuncture to stimulate labor in overdue mothers to be had a success rate of 88%.
Acupressure at Home
There are a few easy-to-get to and easy-to-remember acupuncture points you or your partner can stimulate to help with the process. I usually recommend pressing 2-3 minutes per point, per side, a few times a day if possible.
- Large Intestine 4 (LI4) Locate the webbing between your index finger and thumb on one of your hands. You will be focusing on the fleshy area towards the middle of your hand. Use the opposite hand to grab the fleshy part with you thumb and index and squeeze in little pumps for a few minutes. Repeat on opposite hand.
- Gall Bladder 21 (GB21) Locate the area at the top of your shoulders, directly in the middle of your upper trapezius. It’s the area that most people have tension from life and hours at the computer. To get a good amount of pressure I recommend the patient to sit in a chair where someone can easily stand behind them. The person standing can use an elbow to press down at the top of the shoulder with as much or little pressure that the woman desires. Repeat on other shoulder.
- Spleen 6 (SP6) Put your four fingers together so there is no space in between them as if you were waving. Locate your ankle bone on the inside of your ankle, put your pinky on the bone, and SP6 is where your index finger lies on the fleshy part just under your shin bone. Repeat on both sides.
I give a lot of treatments throughout a woman’s pregnancy, and labor preparations are by far my favorite! I get to see the excitement of mom and often get to feel the baby kick, move, or hiccup. Everything becomes real, and I marvel at the miracle that is happening before my eyes. Bringing a new life into this world is probably one the most special experiences a woman can have. I feel lucky to be a small part in the process, and to see the little one after all is said and done. It solidifies for the infinite number of times why I love what I do.
Best in Health,