How to use Community Acupuncture for Labour Induction

Labour induction is one of those especially magical and exciting parts of my job or as my colleague, Jeff puts it, “baby eviction day”. Pregnancy is one these unique life transitions where we follow it’s continued progress, support what naturally happens and encourage bringing a brand new life into the world. The journey of pregnancy is one of the few situations where there isn’t necessarily anything wrong nor is there anything that needs to be corrected.

The use of acupuncture for labour induction is a separate and distinctly different process to medical induction. Acupuncture serves as a drug-free method to support and encourage the natural physiological changes that occur as your body approaches term (approx 38-40 weeks), such as cervical ripening/softening, hormonal release (relaxin, oxytocin, endorphins, adrenaline, prostaglandins), optimal positioning of the baby, supporting the uterus to initiate contractions, pain management, etc.

Most importantly, it provides HOLISTIC care supporting the expectant parent physically-psycho-emotionally-spiritually and not just simply focusing on inducing labour as these aspects of a person must be in alignment for one’s body to feel safe to naturally enter into the early stages of labour.

Here are a few suggestions of how to best use acupuncture for labour preparation, but also how it can support a gestating body throughout the 40 odd weeks of this journey and beyond.

Start early, receive treatment regularly

Acupuncture is a dose-dependent therapy, hence, receiving a consistent course of treatment will provide your body a strong and clear message of what it needs to do. Maintaining regular treatment will yield stronger, more effective clinical results. Also that the treatments are cumulative, with each subsequent session building on the previous. So, to give your body the best chance to naturally enter labour, we strongly encourage you to start earlier to give it a reasonable head start. This is especially the case if this is your first pregnancy, as we know there is a greater chance of being overdue.

The best way to give your body a head start for labour prep is to commence treatment around 35-36 weeks (see section below). You will receive sessions for cervical ripening as well as addressing any of the typical (or not so typical) symptoms of later stages of pregnancy – edema, body pain, heart burn, hemorrhoids, etc.

Furthermore, acupuncture can do SO MUCH MORE than Labour Induction! The objective is to promote positive outcomes in the weeks leading UP TO childbirth as well as decreasing pain and complications during and after childbirth. Acupuncture can support and prepare a mother’s body for a more effective, natural vaginal birth. It has also been shown to decrease the incidence of complications such as requiring medical induction and/or cesarian section.

Timing, timing, timing…

During the final weeks of gestation, depending on WHEN you commence receiving regular acupuncture will be the difference between whether we will provide Cervical Ripening vs. Labour Induction, as the purpose of each “treatment” is different as well as it’s timing.

Technical jargon aside, starting at the recommended time frame will provide your body a head start and starting at the recommended time frame will reduce the chances of being overdue and your body entering early labour with greater ease. For certain clients who receive acupuncture for cervical ripening (35-36 weeks), some clients don’t even require providing treatment for labour induction because their bodies have understood the assignment!

More importantly, if you are a “higher risk” pregnancy, such as in cases of gestational diabetes or you are a “geriatric pregnancy” (late 30s – early 40s), you likely will not be allowed to gestate to term (~40 weeks) and more often than not are given a medical induction date. Most expectant parents aren’t particularly thrilled about this, so it is pertinent that high risk pregnancies start even earlier as we are trying to encourage the body to go into labour earlier than it naturally would. Even as early as 30-32 weeks is ample time to prepare your body for an “ahead of schedule” childbirth.

There is no “set protocol” for cervical ripening or labour induction and our point selection will be customized based on your gestational history and current presentation . Here are our general recommendations for most uncomplicated, “garden variety” pregnancies:

Cervical RipeningLabour Induction
Generally treatment commences at 35-36 weeks & transitioning to labour induction around 38-39 weeksCommencing around 38-39 weeks (or earlier if you will not be gestating to term), following previous few weeks of preparation with cervical ripening
Cervical Ripening prepares the body for labour as well as encouraging and promoting more effective labour, increasing chances of natural vaginal birth and enhancing post-partum recovery.Labour Induction is intended as a
drug-free method encourage the body to begin entering the early stages of labour. Labour Induction is more effective if a client has received previous weeks of Cervical Ripening in preparation
We commonly recommend cervical ripening sessions once / week.
Sessions are also intended as an opportunity for rest and relaxation.
Treatment frequency is assessed on a case-by-case basis depending on how the expectant parent presents.
Sessions providing labour induction tend to be more intense as the client will hopefully feel more physical symptoms of early labour.

Cervical sweep + acupuncture = higher success

From 14 odd years of seeing maternity cases, I have observed a strong relationship between my clients receiving a cervical sweep/separation of membranes by their midwife/OBGYN and receiving acupuncture for labour induction WITHIN 48 hours.

Physiologically, receiving a cervical sweep separates the amniotic sac from the cervix, which will trigger the release of labour inducing hormones (ie. prostaglandins). Paired with an acupuncture treatment soon after, will support further cervical softening, hormonal release, help the baby to drop and the head to engage on the cervix, encourage uterine contractions and all of the countless other effects and benefits on the pregnant body, cervical sweep + acupuncture are a winning combination.

If you know in advance that your medical professional will be performing a cervical sweep at your next check-up, we strong encourage you to book an acupuncture session shortly after (within 48 hrs), so we can take advantage of the momentum this particular procedure will cause. And hopefully, it will be the push your body needs to enter into early stages of labour.

Malpositioned baby?

Breech baby? A labour induction adjacent condition that also must be addressed ASAP in order for effective labour to start.

YES, acupuncture is effective for repositioning a malpositioned baby and much like labour induction, starting treatment the earlier the better. Especially if your breech is found close to term.

We always recommend receiving at least 1 acupuncture session and confirming the baby’s position with your medical professional. In certain cases, since a breech baby turning is a pretty substantial maneuver, many expectant parents undeniably can FEEL the baby turning, which is very obvious feedback from the treatment.

Supplement with acupressure!

We are strong advocates of supplementing between your acupuncture sessions with acupressure for labour induction. And it is something we commonly teach both the expectant parent and the individuals who will be present at the birth as an additional tool for labour induction and pain management during childbirth.

If used correctly and consistently, it is a safe and effective way to provide a similar, but gentler stimulus to an acupuncture session. It is also a wonderful way for spouses, family members or birth workers (ie. doulas) to support a pregnant body to move closer to the early stages of labour.

Closer to term (~38-40 weeks), we recommend applying strong, firm pressure of one or more of these acu-points for at least 1-2 minutes. Always remembering to use deep diaphragmatic breaths for the duration of holding the points so you can encourage your body to remain in a parasympathetic/”rest & digest” state.

LI4 (Hegu), featured below, we recommend using any time you experience Braxton-Hicks, cramping or mild uterine contractions. Hold this acu-point for the duration of the “contractions”, it can encourage/intensify the strength of the contraction and encourage the uterus to contract in a more wave-like fashion.

Here are our 3 favorite acupressure points for inducing labour:

LI4 (Hegu) – on dorsum/back of the hand, along the middle of the 2nd metacarpal bone (index finger).

Regulates the intensity and efficiency of uterine and cervical contractions.

Relieves pain throughout the body.

SP6 (Sanyinjiao) – 4 finger widths (3 cun) directly above the medial malleolus, on the posterior border of the tibia.

Main point for genital system, useful for menstrual cramps and relaxing the cervix.

Can encourage the passing of afterbirth, retained membranes.

Hormonal regulation.

GB21 (Jianjing) – midway between C7 and the tip of the shoulder joint, found on the highest point of the trapezius muscle

Regulates the intensity and efficiency of uterine and cervical contractions.

Relieves pain throughout the body.

We think Community Acupuncture is an ideal therapy for Perinatal Care

In a nutshell, Community Acupuncture is high volume acupuncture provided in a supportive group setting, points mainly on the arms and legs, at sliding scale rates – at Heart & Hands, our rates are $30-60/session. It makes acupuncture an accessible option to a wider range of individuals who otherwise could not afford the going rate for acupuncture. It is a modern take on how acupuncture is traditionally provided in Asia; in a large open space, treating many people at once, quickly, efficiently and effectively.

So, Community Acupuncture is an ideal and affordable therapy for expectant parents and it offers so much more than labour induction to promote a happy, healthy pregnancy and beyond! If you need support through any stage of your pregnancy, we’re here to help!

And in general, at Heart & Hands, we would love to be a continual and regular support THROUGHOUT your pregnancy journey, ensuring that you have a positive and best possible outcome for you, your progressing, changing pregnant body and of course, the baby…and of course, towards the end our course of care will also involve preparation for labour.

If you are wondering if Community Acupuncture could induce your labour or support you through other stages of your pregnancy journey, contact us

OR if you’re rearin’ to evict this baby, we offer perinatal sessions throughout our weekly schedule and we look forward to seeing you in a chair!

2nd photo by Sophie Lecavalier Photography

Did you know? Heart & Hands offers safe, drug-free and affordable care throughout your pregnancy journey, whether you are trying to conceive, managing the symptoms and discomforts during, preparing to give birth or needing post-partum support, we are the place! Find out more, Pokes for pregnancy: Community Acupuncture for happy, healthy parents & babies.

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