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Acupuncture, Pregnancy, and Labor Preparation

By Tamara Roe L.Ac *Tamara has been practicing acupuncture and Chinese medicine since 2004. She focuses much of her practice on women’s health care, specifically fertility and Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART)


One of our favorite types of treatments we do as acupuncturists is to prepare a pregnant woman for labor. It is such a powerful time in a woman’s life as she stands on the precipice of motherhood. It is often a very emotional time because she is about to embark on a very new, very personal journey, and there are so many unknown factors waiting for her down that road. Something very special can occur during those labor preparation treatments that allow a woman to center and ground herself, while encouraging the the necessary hormonal cascade to fall into place, allowing labor to begin.

Labor preparation isn’t only about supporting the onset of labor, it’s about supporting the mother-to-be physically, emotionally, and spiritually as she makes her transition into motherhood.
We generally prefer to see our patients throughout their entire pregnancies so that we can monitor their health and their bodies through the different stages of pregnancy. From our experience, women have much better, more positive labor and delivery outcomes when they receive regular, on-going acupuncture care. Labors tend to be quicker to progress, shorter in duration, and fewer interventions are needed.
Of course, there are often cases when we meet women in their 40th week of pregnancy that need our help right then and there, and we are here to help them, too!

Who does acupuncture help?

Prior to full-term (before around 40 weeks), we support the mom, the baby, the pregnancy, and we address any symptoms or ailments that may be causing discomfort or health issues. We treat the broad spectrum of 1st trimester issues ranging from nausea, fatigue, heartburn, headaches, irritability, GI issues, joint pain, ligament discomfort, sinus issues, etc.
As a woman nears full-term, we may address issues with physical discomfort, edema (swelling), heartburn, breech positioning (link here to breech article), insomnia, anxiety, and so on. Also, the closer she gets to 40 weeks, the more we begin to turn our attention to preparing the body, the uterus, and the cervix for labor and delivery.
Once a woman reaches full-term in a healthy pregnancy, we may decide to begin treatment protocols aimed at supporting oxytocin production. Oxytocin is the the hormone necessary for labor. There are several ways to increase oxytocin levels, and there are various acupuncture point protocols can be incredibly effective at this. By encouraging the natural production of oxytocin in her body, there is less of a chance she’ll have to receive the pharmacological version, Pitocin, at the hospital.
Our approach is dependant upon the specific patient, as well. How we treat a woman who is 40.5 weeks pregnant with moderate Braxton Hicks contractions and adequate fluid levels will be very different from the woman who is 41 weeks pregnant whose bag of waters has recently ruptured, but has no regular contractions or other signs of labor and needs to get things moving in a hurry.
There was a small study done at the University of North Carolina that shows evidence supporting the use of acupuncture and induction of labor. The study showed 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. 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%.

“We had almost a 50% reduction in the C-section rate,” says researcher Terry Harper, MD. Harper, who now practices maternal fetal medicine in Albuquerque, says the small size of her study means more research is needed. She hopes acupuncture might one day help more women give birth vaginally.
This study supports what I’ve experienced in my clinical practice. It’s impossible to know if acupuncture will encourage the onset of labor for every woman, but the majority of patients respond after 1-3 treatments.

Do you have questions after reading this article? Please let us know! Leave a comment below, we would love to give you some answers!

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