Greetings Dear Readers,
Pregnant women near the end of term often come to my clinic wanting a treatment to make their labour “go a little easier” or make sure the little one “arrives on schedule”.
The goal of acupuncture near the end of term is to promote efficient and natural labour, or what we would call pre-birth acupuncture or labour preparation. Normally pre-birth acupuncture can start at 37 weeks or as recommended by the doctor, ideally once a week for 4 weeks leading up to delivery date. The goal of labour preparation treatment is to prepare the mother both physically and emotionally for the upcoming birth. Labour preparation acupuncture addresses four main areas: correct positioning of the baby, resolving any pain issues such as back or pelvic pain, strengthening energy, and promoting emotional balance and relaxation. Several studies have shown that mothers who received acupuncture before giving birth had reduced labour time as well as lower rates of cesarean sections, reduced nausea, pelvic pain and emotional complaints.
An excellent resource for pregnancy and labour concerns using Traditional Chinese Medicine is Debra Betts.
More Energy, Less Pain
Pregnancy and labour take a lot of the mother’s energy and this is usually confirmed by a weak or soft pulse. In addition to raising energy levels, it is important to correct any pain problem. Women may be experiencing low back or pelvic pain which interferes with their sleep, and this loss of sleep is lowering their energy. When it comes to energy, the Spleen system is very important. In pregnancy, it is the Spleen system’s energy that supports the fetus in the uterus all those nine months. Lack of energy can stop the labour from proceeding efficiently. Eating Spleen foods such as dates and sweet potatoes is good measure in the weeks leading up to delivery. Strengthening mother’s energy is beneficial both for efficient labour and it promotes better postpartum recovery. In this case, energy strengthening points such as GV20 (at the top of the head), ST36 (at front of leg), UB 43 (Upper Back) and SP 6 (shin) may be used.
Signs of malpositions or breach baby include slow cervical dilation, back pain, baby
remaining high in the womb, or labour starting and stopping at term. The baby’s position needs to be corrected for the labour to proceed efficiently. Often the contractions will start on their own once the baby is in the correct position. In this case, moxabustion at UB67 (corner of baby toe) has a terrific track record of moving the baby into the correct position. Moxabustion is a type of heat therapy where a stick of burning moxa is held close to the acupuncture point to stimulate the area. Moxabustion will be done at the clinic if indicated and can be repeated at home by labour attendants. Additionally, a press-tack needle on the point can be placed and worn home and later stimulated with finger pressure.
Fear of labour and other emotional stressors around having children and all the changes in life that come with it, can create energy blockages that can slow down the labour process. Fear may be coming from the media such as medical shows, or from a previous experience. Other emotions such as anger or sadness can also be creating energy blocks in the channels. Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis can differentiate and treat the organ system(s) involved in the stress response. For example, fear is often Kidney and Heart Not Communicating, or Kidney Yin Deficiency. Anger and sometimes sadness are related to Liver Qi Stagnation.
Specifically, the Pericardium channel is very affected by emotions and often gets blocked due to stress. The pericardium channel also has a strong connection to the uterus. A quote from the Selected Historical Theories of Chinese Medicine says, “the uterus connects downwards with the Kidneys and upwards with the Heart”. Most women have already experienced some of this pattern where emotional stress leads to painful menstrual cramps. Acupuncture can work with these emotional blocks to put the body and mind in a better energy framework to allow for a smoother and quicker delivery. Needling at Pericardium 5 (inner wrist) can help to calm the mind as well as targeting better energy in the uterus. This point used together with Pericardium 6 (also calms the mind and treats nausea) can work wonders. Other excellent points for emotional preparation include Yintang, Liver 3, Lung 7 and Kidney 1.
Where will the needles go?
This is a very good question. A qualified, licensed acupuncturist in your area will know the right points to use, and the no-no’s for your stage of pregnancy. In pregnancy fewer needles are used so that the treatment conserves your energy and is not very stimulating. Needling of the abdomen and low back are routinely avoided during the pregnancy, but for labour induction acupuncture, points around the sacrum may be used to stimulate labour.
Generally speaking, if the due date has truly passed and it is necessary to get the baby out soon, acupuncture can be used to stimulate uterine contractions. Treatment at this stage is done with strong stimulation of the points that are known to stimulate contractions, move the uterine energy downwards and promote cervical ripening. Please note that acupuncture to stimulate uterine contractions is not the same as a medical induction which is much stronger and swift-acting. Acupuncture is a gentle intervention, and for those who are wondering, it is very unlikely that the water will break on the table. Acupuncture for induction will give the body a gentle nudge to start labour, and will usually work within 2-3 treatments.
If you have any questions or would like to book a free consultation or appointment, please connect with me here.
I look forward to working with you.
Yours in health,
Cynthia McGilvray, R.Ac.
Betts, Debra.(June 2009). Inducing Labour with Acupuncture: Crucial Considerations. Journal of Chinese Medicine. Retrieved from: http://www.medigogy.com/sites/default/files/attachments/Inducing+Labour+with+Acupuncture+by+Debra+Betts.pdf
Maciocia, Giovanni. The Foundations of Chinese Medicine: A Comprehensive Text, 3rd Ed. (2015), Elsevier, Ltd.
Berks, Alex. L. Ac. Acupuncture in Labour and Delivery. Retrieved from: http://www.acupuncture.com/Conditions/labordelivery.htm