Can Acupuncture Be Used To Induce Labor?
By Mark Fischer
It is a common question in my practice, “have you induced labor with acupuncture.” The answer is a profound yes. I have induced several women and have watched other practitioners induce many more. All of the women I have seen use acupuncture induction gave birth within 48 hours. They were all slightly “over due” according to their physicians. They all sought out acupuncture as an alternative to Pitocin. The average labor time was 4 – 5 hours.
Understanding how acupuncture can induce labor:
Acupuncture is different than western induction drugs. It is an alternative to Pitocin, yet acts in a very different way. First lets look at Pitocin. Pitocin creates an immediate reaction which begins labor whether the mother’s body and baby are ready or not. Contractions start almost instantly with pitocin in labor induction, making it an extremely predictable drug. However, the effects of pitocin on children are not fully known. Possible side effects for the mother have been reported to include:
- Anaphylactic reaction
- Postpartum hemorrhage
- Cardiac arrhythmia
- Fatal afibrinogenemia
- Premature ventricular contractions
- Pelvic hematoma
Using acupuncture to induce labor is a whole different experience. Depending on the practitioner, acupuncture needles are inserted into strategic locations in the hands, lower leg, and feet. These needles are not like what the average person thinks of when they imagine getting a shot. The needles are solid, yet extremely thin (about 5 can fit inside the hole of your average hypodermic needle). For the most part the insertion does not produce pain. The needles create a stimulation in the body which is used to reprogram the mother’s energy in such a way as to get her body ready for labor. With some women this can be a significant change, as I will describe in a minute. Labor is rarely expected to start right away, although I have been lucky enough to witness it on several occasions.
Birth Stories With Acupuncture
#1 - My first acupuncture induced labor – Observation Clinic with Dr. Daniel Diamond:
I mentioned that for some women, acupuncture induction can create a significant reaction in the women being treated. The first time I ever witnessed acupuncture to induce labor was in an acupuncture techniques class. My teacher, Daniel Diamond, was looking for a subject to discuss for the evening. One of my classmates was a day overdue for her child’s birth and decided to be the volunteer for the day’s discussion rounds. Needles were inserted in the hands and feet with electro- stimulation set to mild (many practitioners use electro-stimulation for inducing labor. I do not as I have not found it necessary, however, it is safe and effective as the levels are set to very low and the electricity is not allowed to pass through the uterus). Within five minutes my classmate, the women being treated, started to have contractions. She packed up her bags in the middle of class and left the classroom to give birth to her child within five hours of the end of class.
#2 - My first time inducing labor with acupuncture:
Sarah, a 20 year old women came into my clinic complaining of being overdue for her delivery by one and a half weeks. She had already seen two other student acupuncturists who had both provided her with the textbook induction technique of four needles, one in each hand and foot, combined with electro-stimulation. I wanted to do something different. I sat down with her and talked about her pregnancy. Her partner paced around in the background and when they communicated I sensed some tension. So, what to do? Acupressure induced labor…. In Acupuncture and Acupressure there are “pressure points” on top of the shoulders that can be stimulated to induce labor. Yes it is a wives tail if you have never seen it done (it will probably not work and can be categorized as myth), but it works if you know what you are doing and how to press the points. I had the patient sit in a chair and breath deep. As she exhaled I would follow the breath pushing into the point imagining the energy going into her feet. At the very bottom of her breath I noticed that her belly was coming up, almost contracting, instead of relaxing down with the exhale. I pointed this out to her and helped her relax all the way through the breath. She started to feel more relaxed and actually had a little small contraction. I then had her partner do the massage technique, and taught him how to press. To my amazement, her belly contracted up at the end of her breath twice as much as the first time when I had pressed down. I pointed this out to both of them and asked why she would be contracting against him. She broke down crying. She cried about her hesitations to bring the baby into the world without her partner’s support. He cried about not being ready to be a father but wanting to fill that role to the best of his ability. It was fairly amazing to witness as there had obviously been a barrier, which was now falling. After a few minutes of talking I had her lay down on the table and I put in some acupuncture points, which were different than the treatment she had already been receiving (Lv 8, Lv 2, LI 4, St 36, St 38). I also treated the partner to help him relax. Her contractions did not start on the table, but the baby began to kick immediately. She went into labor that evening and gave birth to a healthy baby before dawn.
#3 - Acupuncture Induction - The Case of The Anti-Induction:
In some instances I have used acupuncture to slow down contractions so the mother could sleep (her husband was an internal medical physician and had just gotten off of a very stressful 36 hour shift). Her contractions were too mild to be real labor, but enough to keep her awake. The more relaxed she became, the more intense the contractions. If she had stayed up, she would have gone into labor that evening. Her husband, however, was very tired and would not have made it through the night as an active supporter in the process. We used acupuncture to slow down the contractions and to help her calm down. She fell asleep and woke up with regular contractions. Her baby was delivered later that day.
In summary Acupuncture can be an effective means to induce labor. I have seen it work time and time again. When compared to the possible side effects of pitocin on children and the known potential side effects for mothers it is clear that acupuncture should be our first line of induction. Acupuncture has no known side effects and as the needles do not come close to the abdomen, there is no potential negative side effect for the child. The down side is that the induction is not always an immediate process. In hospitals, the trend is to want to get women in and out of labor. A hospital bed is expensive and so is a physician’s time. If you or a friend you know is considering using acupuncture to induce labor, you should visit the acupuncturist prior to the seventh month and expect to begin treatments to induce the labor just before or after your due date. An experienced acupuncturist will know how close you are to going into labor and can give you a clear view of how long you can expect to wait for labor to begin.
Labor is a spiritual journey. When your spirit, the spirit of your child, and the spirit of the father are ready the birth will begin. Have patients and see the experience as the most amazing passage you will most likely have as a family. You are ushering a new life into this world. Breathe and observe every second with awe, love and hope for the new life. Using acupuncture to induce labor does not push you through the experience prematurely or too quickly. Acupuncture balances you and prepares you for the passage. Take a deep breath and say hello to a new life.