Acupuncture For Natural Childbirth: Increasing Your Chances of a Natural Delivery

Labour induction is one of the most common things that brings new people into the clinic. More and more women are now planning for natural childbirth, and there’s been a growing awareness in recent years that acupuncture is an extremely effective way to get labour started.

Back in 2008, just as I was graduating from Traditional Chinese Medicine school, I had the opportunity to study with Debra Betts, an internationally-recognised expert in prenatal acupuncture. Her enthusiasm for the power of acupuncture to make a difference in the lives of pregnant women was contagious, and I was inspired to make this a focus of my practice. I love helping women through the pre- and post-natal phases, because it’s such a critical time, and acupuncture can have a big impact on how a woman feels through her pregnancy and labour. Having support during this important time can help women to make a smooth transition into motherhood.

So, in this week’s blog post, I’m talking about why it’s beneficial to get acupuncture before you give birth, when to start treatments, and how acupuncture works to induce labour and increase the odds of a good birth experience. Also, in celebration of my new youtube channel, I made a companion video explaining pre-birth acupuncture and labour induction, to go along with this blog.

 

Pre-Birth Acupuncture: Increasing Your Chances of a Natural Birth

Before we start talking about induction, the first thing I recommend to my pregnant patients is pre-birth acupuncture. This is a series of weekly acupuncture treatments, starting at 37 weeks and continuing until labour begins. One of the things that inspired me in my prenatal acupuncture training was hearing about the studies that had been done showing how pre-birth acupuncture leads to better birth outcomes.

A number of studies have been done to evaluate the effect of pre-birth acupuncture treatments (1,2). Commonly, they found that acupuncture reduced the average duration of labour, as well as the need for interventions. A 2004 observational study from New Zealand found some dramatic results: women receiving pre-birth acupuncture had 32% fewer emergency caesarean sections, a 35% reduction in medical inductions (and a whopping 43% reduction for first time Mums), and 31% fewer epidurals (3). With statistics like these, I feel that every woman who hopes for a natural delivery should know about the benefits of pre-birth acupuncture.

How Pre-Birth Acupuncture Works

So how does pre-birth acupuncture get such great results? The points I use in my pre-birth treatments do many things to help prepare the body for labour. I use the point Spleen 6, San Yin Jiao, to soften the cervix, so that it dilates more quickly and easily once contractions begin. I use several points to help relax the tendons and ligaments so that the pelvis can open and relax during labour. If the baby is still sitting high in the abdomen, there are points I can use to help him or her to descend and engage, and there are other points to help reposition if baby isn’t in quite the right position (although it’s quite difficult to turn a breech baby by this point in pregnancy).

As more and more women seek a natural birth, acupuncture has received attention as an alternative to a medical induction.

As more and more women seek a natural birth, acupuncture has received attention as an alternative to a medical induction.

It’s also common for many minor symptoms to appear in the last few weeks of pregnancy – aches and pains, insomnia, and emotional swings due to the changing hormone levels are all quite common – and acupuncture works well to treat them, making it easier to rest and relax while waiting for labour to begin. I also do points to boost the Qi, or energy, of the body, to give the new Mum enough strength for labour.

Weekly pre-birth treatments not only help prepare a woman’s body for labour and reduce the chances of a difficult labour, but also help her to feel less stressed and more comfortable during the last few weeks. A healthy, happy Mama is the key to a healthy, happy baby.

Using Acupuncture to Induce Labour

I have very rarely needed to do an induction on someone who has been receiving pre-birth acupuncture from 37 weeks, as they almost always go into labour without assistance. However, because so few women know about pre-birth acupuncture, it’s much more common for me to first see someone when they are already past 40 weeks (and feeling very ready to not be pregnant anymore!). In this situation, there’s still a lot that acupuncture can do, including preventing the need for a medical induction.

Firstly, there’s usually time for some pre-birth treatment, even once a woman has reached her due date. I never like to start the “big push” of an induction treatment unless a medical induction has been scheduled, for a few reasons. Calculating dates can be a tricky business, and sometimes the baby simply isn’t ready, even when a woman is considered full-term. I prefer to trust in the wisdom of the body when it comes to the timing of delivery, unless there are medical reasons to proceed with an induction. The second reason is that if we stimulate contractions too soon, sometimes the result is a few hours of contractions that then stop, leaving the woman exhausted and no closer to true labour.

The same points I use for pre-birth acupuncture work to ensure that the body is ready to go into labour as soon as baby is, even without stimulating uterine contractions, and without the risk of a start-stop false labour. That’s why I never start the full induction protocol until a medical induction has been scheduled.

The Labour Induction Protocol

Ideally, I like to start 3 days before a scheduled induction, allowing for 3 acupuncture treatments. I have rarely needed to do all 3 – usually, women come in for the first 2, and then miss the third because they’re too busy giving birth. If it isn’t possible to do treatments daily, then I recommend starting 5 days before the induction date, to make sure there’s time for 3 treatments, just in case all 3 are needed. This is when I add in the point Large Intestine 4, Hegu, which has a strong action to stimulate uterine contractions. I also encourage women to give themselves acupressure on this point between treatments (I demonstrate this point on the video, so take a look if you’re currently trying to get labour started).

Healthy Mama, Healthy Baby

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been caring for women’s reproductive health for generations, and has so much to offer modern women, from promoting fertility to postnatal healing (more blog posts to come on these important topics). If you want an overview of what acupuncture and TCM can do during and after pregnancy, check out my pregnancy page.

Pre-birth acupuncture and acupuncture inductions are a great place to start, because having a good labour experience helps so much with the postnatal recovery time, and with bonding between Mama and baby. It’s one of those times where a little bit of help creates ripples that go a long way, which is why I love treating women during this time. If you’re currently pregnant, I’d strongly encourage you to find a local acupuncturist, preferably one who is trained in prenatal acupuncture, to help give you the best chance for having the birth of your dreams.

Your health ally,

Moss

References

  1. Kubista E Kucera H. Geburtshilfe Perinatol. 1974; 178 224-9
  2. Tempfer C, Zeisler H, Mayerhofe Kr, Barrada M Husslein P. Influence of acupuncture on duration of labour Gynecol Obstet Invest 1998; 46:22-5
  3. Betts D, Lennox S. Acupuncture for prebirth treatment: An observational study of its use in midwifery practice. Medical acupuncture 2006 May; 17(3):17-20
Moss
Moss Andrewes is an acupuncturist and practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, specializing in women’s health and chronic illness. Originally from the UK and now residing in Canada, she is a writer, speaker, and event organizer, focusing on health, sustainable living and community. Her lifelong passion for making the world a happier, healthier place has led her through many adventures, including off-grid sustainable living, disaster relief, and various community health projects. She currently lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with her partner and two cats.

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