Safety of acupuncture to induce labour

Safety is usually the primary concern of any mother during her pregnancy, and particularly through the final, and often trying, phase: childbirth. Labour is a complex physiological process, and it doesn’t always happen when scheduled. In these cases alternative techniques are often employed to safely deliver babies. In this article we look at one such technique, acupuncture, and whether or not it is safe to use to induce labour.

Using acupuncture to induce labour

If a woman hasn’t gone into labour by a certain point, usually around 41-42 weeks, then doctors may have to consider methods of artificially inducing childbirth. This is because as a baby becomes more and more overdue, there are increasing risks to both mother and child.

In cases where a mother is suffering from a condition which put her at risk during childbirth, like elevated blood pressure, an induction is usually scheduled in the weeks leading up to her due date. This helps to keep the process as smooth as possible.

There are a number of different conventional methods of inducing labour, and these include certain hormonal treatments and other means by which the muscles of the uterus (the womb) can be stimulated into contractions that start the main part of childbirth. Acupuncture is one method that can be applied to help induce labour, and the technique involves applying specially designed acupuncture needles to particular parts of the body, known as acupuncture point, to stimulate uterine contractions.

Is the use of acupuncture to induce labour safe?

Acupuncture’s uses in the induction of labour have are considered safe provided a number of guidelines are adhered to when it comes to employing an acupuncturist and receiving the therapy.

Firstly it is important that you only pursue acupuncture to induce labour with the consent of your midwife and/or doctor. Pregnancy and labour are complicated, and in some ways risky, processes, and both your midwife and doctor will be aware of any nuances of your health that might make acupuncture risky for either yourself or your baby. In most cases acupuncture will be perfectly safe, however the approval of your antenatal care team is absolutely vital for health and safety reasons.

Secondly, it is important that acupuncture is not used to induce labour before either 41 weeks into the pregnancy or at least 1 week after the designated due date. According to the British Acupuncture Council, acupuncturists should not provide their services unless a mother has met one or two of these criteria. Using acupuncture to induce birth before the natural end of a pregnancy can be harmful in that it would result in a premature birth, and while medical care has advanced enough to effectively care for premature babies, there are still risks involved and there is no good reason to hasten childbirth.

Acupuncture has been shown to be a safe practice provided that the acupuncturist involved has received adequate training and holds qualifications that meet certain standards. Unfortunately there is no legal requirement for statutory regulation of acupuncture here in the UK, which means that practitioners don’t have to be licensed and registered with a regulatory body in order to practice. This means that it is possible for practitioners to provide sub-par services, which is why it is important that you determine that any acupuncturist you intend on using has the training and experience needed to safely deliver acupuncture.

The main risks carried by acupuncture performed by unqualified and inexperienced practitioners are that of infection and accidental organ injury. Acupuncture needles are sterilised and are either of the disposable or re-usable variety, and certain steps need to be followed before they are applied (e.g. using an antiseptic wipe on a target area) to minimise the risks of infection. If these measures are taken, as they would be by an acupuncturist with the right training, then infection can be avoided and the treatment kept safe.

Cases of an acupuncturist accidentally damaging an organ or certain tissues through needling have been almost exclusively attributed to practitioners without sufficient qualification and training. This type of accident can have serious consequence, and serves to highlight the importance of making sure that your acupuncturist is suitable for your treatment.

One way to ensure that an acupuncturist can provide a safe and effective service is by looking into whether or not he or she is registered with a professional body. While it is not a legal requirement in the UK, acupuncturists can voluntarily register with organisations like the British Acupuncture Council. These organisations have certain codes of conduct and standards of practice to which members must abide, and there are disciplinary consequences if an acupuncturist fails to meet those requirements. These organisations keep a register listing members, making it easier to find an acupuncturist who is under external regulation.

Following these guidelines is the best way to ensure that acupuncture is not only safe, but effectively used to induce labour.

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