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What's the point of acupuncture for labor?

I wanted to write this post to help people understand how acupuncture can be used to support or encourage labor.

Let’s start with the bad news. Truth is, while acupuncture can be powerful medicine, it is not a magic button you press and labor just starts. Heck, pitocin inductions can’t even force labor to start if the body is not ready, so there is no magic bullet really.

I think of acupuncture more like a suggestion. So if I were to suggest you kill someone, and you’re not a killer, there’s just no way you’d take that direction, right?

And if I were to suggest you do something like get married, and that’s something you do want to do, but not yet, I couldn’t force you to say yes before you were ready, right?

But if I were to suggest something to you that perhaps you’d already been thinking about doing, like taking a nap, and when you think about it you realize how tired you are and you’re like, that’s such a good idea, I’m going to do it!

Without the suggestion you might have just pushed through and sucked up your fatigue, but then someone gives you that permission to stop and rest, and well that’s all you needed. Especially it if the suggestion was made repeatedly, you’d take it right?

That’s how the suggestion of acupuncture works. The points we select have been studied to have an effect on increased blood flow to the pelvis, can initiate contractions, help soften the cervix, encourage the kind of relaxation that can help our natural oxytocin turn on, and make the suggestion for our energy to descend.

The points we use to encourage labor are the same points we avoid during pregnancy. During pregnancy the direction we want our energy to go is up. We don’t want prolapsing or dropping energy. We want to hold our babies up and in.

But labor is a process of descent, energetically and physiologically. So to encourage labor acupuncturists use needles to “suggest” our energy, and the baby along with it, start descending. And if we’re ready, to take that suggestion, the acupuncture can be very powerful. Labor may begin that day or in the case of a stalled labor, it may pick up immediately.

But here’s something to consider about when it doesn’t tend to work as well. One time the night before a scheduled induction.

In China, acupuncture is applied repeatedly for hours with electrical stimulation at the birth site until labor begins, more akin to a medical induction than the way we practice it here in the US.

Like that, acupuncture is best applied more frequently for optimal effect. Daily or at least 3 times a week starting at 40 weeks, or 39 weeks if there is extra pressure to be induced by someone’s care provider. I also recommend my clients apply self-acupressure between sessions on certain key points, to great effect.

Remember, in the event that someone’s body is not ready to take the suggestion to start labor, all the other benefits of this healing modality still apply and IMHO are worth considering as part of any late pregnancy plan regardless.

Most people find acupuncture relaxing and coming in for these sessions can be a great way to relax, tune into baby and become more mentally, emotionally and physically prepared for labor, so even if the acupuncture “doesn’t work”, it can provide a great way to prepare for birth.

I hope this helps. Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences with acupuncture for labor in the comments.

Photo Credit: Josh Bean

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