Acupuncture as a Catalyst for Labor
It’s a common story: a woman reaches 40 weeks of pregnancy and finds herself facing a deadline to go into spontaneous labor. If she’d like to avoid a medical induction, there’s often a mountain of advice telling her what to do to kickstart the process. It can feel overwhelming, especially at a time that’s already tiring and full of heightened emotions.
Fortunately, there are safe, effective options available. Routine acupuncture treatments in the last weeks of pregnancy are often extremely helpful in encouraging a productive, timely labor and delivery. Research has shown that when comparing first-time mothers who received regular pre-birth acupuncture compared to first-time mothers who did not, total labor time is reduced by an average of an hour and a half. Midwives also report that, in their clinical experience, women who receive acupuncture for labor preparation are more likely to go into spontaneous labor near their due date and to have fewer needs for medical intervention during labor.
“Routine acupuncture treatments in the last weeks of pregnancy are often extremely helpful in encouraging a productive, timely labor and delivery.”
Acupuncture for labor preparation generally involves a weekly treatment beginning at 37 weeks gestation, assuming that both mother and baby have been confirmed as healthy by a doctor or midwife. Treatments can be given either side-lying or seated, depending on what is most comfortable, and include a quiet 20-30 minutes of time to rest and help regulate the nervous system.
Labor preparation treatments are generally two-pronged. First, a relatively standardized set of acupuncture points is used. These points help relax ligaments (especially through the midsection, hips, and pelvis), increase overall circulation, encourage the cervix to soften and dilate, and promote optimal position of the baby. A second set of benefits comes from the personalized nature of acupuncture practice. Beyond the standard points, each treatment is tailored to what each woman needs on that particular day. This allows the acupuncturist to address any specific complaints that may be interfering with the progression toward labor.
An ancient adage in Chinese medicine states “Where there is pain, there is no free flow. Where there is no free flow, there is pain.” How does this relate to labor preparation? In the simplest terms, a smooth labor depends on all systems of a woman’s body working as well as possible.
Here we can define “pain” not just as physical pain but also any discomfort that may be disturbing, such as fatigue, heartburn, elevated blood pressure, digestive troubles, disturbed sleep, or anxiety and fears about birth. Resolution of these issues helps restore “free flow” in the body, which can be thought of as optimal circulation and cellular function as well as the cascade of hormones necessary to begin and facilitate labor.
Another important element of labor preparation treatments involves advising the mother-to-be on helpful self-care techniques. I often teach women acupressure points I feel are most beneficial to her specific needs, as well as suggest physical activities and foods that are nourishing and supportive of a healthy labor. This is also a good time to talk through any worries a woman may be having. Just as physical pain can impair the body’s optimal functioning, so can emotional pain! While feelings are often intense in the last weeks of pregnancy, I encourage women to listen to their intuition and spend these last weeks being gentle to themselves and avoiding things or situations that cause upset.
Lastly, I encourage pregnant women seeking labor preparation treatment to visit a licensed, board-certified acupuncturist (look for the title “L.Ac.”) who has specific experience working with pregnancy. Acupuncture is safe and effective, but treatment during pregnancy does require certain modifications and an awareness of how best to work with the mother and baby’s needs. Visiting a licensed practitioner ensures that you’re getting the best care possible to help you experience a healthy, harmonious labor and delivery.
Arden Yingling is the owner of Songbird Acupuncture and a board-certified acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist. As a mother herself, Arden loves offering support and nurturing to women through the childbearing cycle and beyond. In addition to her work with pregnancy and postpartum health, she also treats hormonal and menstrual imbalances, stress, anxiety, fatigue, and other women’s health issues, as well as working with babies and kids of all ages. Songbird Acupuncture offers a warm, compassionate environment, a mama and child-friendly office, and safe, effective treatments to help families thrive. For more information, visit:
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