Inducing labour with acupuncture

After 9 long month of pregnancy, mothers face the arduous process of waiting for labour to begin. In most cases, labour kicks in when the baby and mother’s body are both ready for delivery. In some cases however, labour may take longer in usual, and in these instances measures to induce labour can be helpful. Acupuncture is one possible route available to a mother waiting for labour, and in this article we look at how acupuncture can be used to induce pregnancy, and whether the practice is safe.

Why would you want to use acupuncture to induce labour?

The end of a pregnancy is the culmination of one of the most complex and remarkable workings of the human body. Labour itself is generally considered the period beginning with contractions of the uterus, and ending with the delivery of a child.

There are a number of different preparations your body needs to go through before labour can begin, and while you are given a due date by your midwife or doctor, this is more to give you an idea of when you should expect rather than a time of birth set in stone. Many births happen before or after a due date (premature and overdue births respectively), and in most cases this is perfectly normal, however there are instances where it may become necessary to induce, or artificially start, labour.

Induction is usually planned in advance, and your midwife or doctor will talk to you if you are suffering from a condition which warrants a scheduled induction. If you have high blood pressure, for example, then you will probably need to have labour induced if it does not begin around your due date. Ultimately though, whether you want to have labour induced or not is completely your choice.

The average due date is around 42 weeks, and any induction will usually be after this point. This is because the longer a childbirth is overdue the greater the risk to both mother and child. As mentioned before, induction is usually planned, however if you are substantially past your due date then your doctor or midwife will talk to you about having labour induced.

Ultimately having labour induced is completely your choice, and if at any point you may need to have an induction for medical reasons, you can rest assured that your doctor or midwife will talk to you about the matter.

How is labour usually induced?

There are a number of techniques which can be applied to induce labour. These include placing a gel or pessary into the vagina which can sometimes stimulate the contraction of muscles in the uterus. Sometimes a hormone drip is used to speed up the process, and this can take anywhere between 24 and 48 hours.

If induction doesn’t work and there is a medical need to get the baby out ,then surgical options like the C-section (Caesarean section) are considered. However there are a couple of alternative medical techniques which can be applied to induce labour before more invasive measures are considered. These include acupunctural techniques which can stimulate the onset of labour.

How can acupuncture be used to induce labour?

Acupuncture is a complementary medical practice that has been in use in the Far East for an estimated 2,500 times. The practice is based on the philosophy that good health depends on the uninterrupted flow of life energy, called Qi, through specialist vessels called meridians. Acupunctural techniques were originally devised as a means by which to restore healthy Qi flow to people suffering from illness.

Since its induction into Western society, a lot of research has been performed to determine how acupuncture works to achieve its therapeutic goals. Thus far there is no evidence to support the Qi hypothesis, however some sources argue that acupuncture can achieve improved circulation, muscle relaxation, and the release of natural painkillers from nerve endings, and through these mechanisms, help to treat and manage a variety of conditions.

The British Acupuncture Council states that, based on research performed to date, acupuncture can be safely used to induce labour, provided it is used at either a week after your due date or after 41 weeks of pregnancy. The Council also states that for acupuncture to be used safely, it must be performed with the consent of the medical professionals, either the midwife or doctor responsible for overseeing your childbirth. This allows for the safest possible administration of acupunctural treatment as your doctor or midwife will only allow it if there is no medical reason not to.

Once these criteria have been met, an acupuncturist will usually use extremely fine, sterilised, stainless steel needles to stimulate specific points in the body. These points are referred to as acupuncture points or acupoints, and by inserting a needle into a select number of these, an acupuncturist hopes to gently induce the contraction of muscles in the womb that begins labour. It can take some time for the effects of these treatments to kick in, and it should be pointed out that while there is some indication that acupuncture can be a successful method of inducing labour, it is not always effective.

Some more traditional acupuncturists use a technique called moxibustion to stimulate labour, and this treatment is also purported to help turn the baby into the correct birth position (which is important for a healthy and safe delivery). Moxibustion involves burning a special herb called moxa by an acupoint on the little toe. Moxibustion is not strongly backed by scientific evidence, but it is reported by acupuncturists as a useful tool that can effectively shorten labour and help adjust a baby in breech (an abnormal birth position).

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