Using Acupressure and Acupuncture During Labor

Julie Kirk
Pregnant woman talking to the doctor

Acupuncture and acupressure have been found to help alleviate the pain experienced during labor. However, if you decide you would like to use acupuncture or acupressure during labor, you should discuss this with your doctor or midwife first.

What Is Acupuncture and Acupressure?

Acupuncture and acupressure are therapy techniques used in traditional Chinese medicine that help re-balance your energy flow, also known as your chi. It promotes self healing and relaxation and has been found to be very helpful in alleviating pain and managing symptoms of various conditions and diseases.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is the process of inserting very fine needles into specific points of the body. These points are associated with various conditions and diseases and are found in various locations throughout the body. Acupuncture does generate a stronger stimulation than acupressure.

Acupressure

Acupressure is the same principle as acupuncture minus the needles. Firm pressure is directly applied to strategic points of the body typically using thumbs or fingertips to stimulate the pressure points.

What Is the Purpose of Acupuncture and Acupressure During Labor?

When you are in the early stages of labor, there are specific pressure points that are stimulated in order to help relieve pain and ease discomfort during labor. It has also been found to:

How It Is Used

Whether you use acupuncture or acupressure, there are a number of pressure points used specifically for labor. A few of the more common pressure points include:

Large Intestine 4 Pressure Point on Hands

This is the most common pressure point and is located on the back of the hand between the thumb and forefinger. This point can help induce labor, strengthen contractions and ease pain.

Kidney 1 Pressure Point on Feet

This pressure point is near the center of the bottom of your foot. This can help with staying calm while going through the transition phase of labor.

Bladder 32 Pressure Point on Lower Back

This pressure point is located in the lower back at the dimple of the buttocks and helps with the start of contractions and cervical dilation.

Benefits of Using Acupuncture and Acupressure During Labor

Acupuncture and acupressure therapy techniques can be especially beneficial for women who are not able or do not want to use any form of pain medication including an epidural. There are many benefits associated with acupuncture and acupressure during labor which include:

  • Eases pain during labor
  • Relieves stress and anxiety
  • Relaxes your muscles
  • Helps with nausea or digestive problems that may occur
  • Alleviates headaches that may occur

What Are the Risks of Acupuncture and Acupressure?

Acupuncture and acupressure are considered relatively safe, however, there are a few minor risks that you should be aware of.

Acupuncture

While acupuncture is considered low-risk, there are potential risks and side effects such as:

  • Infection can occur if the needle is not sterile.
  • If you are pregnant and acupuncture is not performed correctly, it could lead to early labor and the possibility of your baby being born premature.
  • You may experience tenderness in the areas where the needles were placed.
  • You may experience some bruising and bleeding from the needles as well.

Acupressure

Acupressure is non invasive, therefore there are minimal risks involved. However, there is the chance that the wrong pressure points can be stimulated during pregnancy or during labor. That is why it is imperative that the person working on your pressure points is licensed and experienced in pregnancy and labor.

Is There Proof That It Works?

While a number of studies have shown promising results, all have consistently indicated that further research is necessary.

  • One study found that acupuncture and acupressure may have played a part in the alleviation of pain and the management of pain during labor, therefore the use of pain medication was reduced as well.
  • Another study demonstrated that acupuncture and acupressure may have helped with cervical ripening during labor.
  • A study on acupressure has shown that it may have helped decrease the duration of labor.

Where Can Acupuncture or Acupressure for Labor Be Performed?

If you are seriously considering acupuncture or acupressure during labor, you will need to decide early in the pregnancy, so you can research and plan ahead. Ideally, you should have previous experience with acupuncture treatments prior to labor. Keep in mind that if you are planning to deliver at a hospital, there are a limited number of hospitals that actually have a licensed acupuncturist on staff. Also, some hospitals will not allow the acupuncture needles due to their invasive nature, although acupressure may still be an option.

Birthing Centers May Be an Option

Typically, most birthing centers will allow acupuncture or acupressure for pain relief during labor. However, in order to deliver at a birthing center, you will need to be low-risk pregnancy. Also, you will need to check your insurance coverage in advance, since some insurances will not cover delivering at a birthing center.

Consents and Stipulations

A prior consent will be needed if you decide to use acupuncture or acupressure during labor regardless where you deliver your baby. There are also certain stipulations that need to be met in order to use the treatments such as:

  • Baby needs to be in the correct birthing position.
  • You do not have placenta previa.
  • Baby is a healthy weight.
  • You do not have any serious health conditions such as preeclampsia.

How Can I Find Out More Information?

If you're considering using acupuncture or acupressure during labor, your doctor or midwife is your best resource. He or she can advise you on how to locate someone who is licensed, has specific experience with pregnant women, and specializes in pregnancy and labor. There may already be one on staff at the hospital where you're planning on delivering your baby. Using traditional Chinese medicine techniques, along with modern medical care, can help ensure that you have a smooth labor and a safe delivery.

Using Acupressure and Acupuncture During Labor