I am often asked about how Acupuncture can help to stimulate natural labor. This is a newer application of Acupuncture for the Western World, and is beginning to gain some recognition, but it is not new in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Thousands of years ago, Eastern Medicine Doctors had to have ways of stimulating labor in women who either did not spontaneously go into labor, when labor stalled or when labor was not strong enough to successfully delivery the baby. Several Acupuncture points are talked about in the literature as being effective for inducing labor or strengthening contractions. (These points are forbidden during pregnancy, with the exception of stimulating labor).
"If the fruit is not ripe, it will not fall" Proverb
From a Western Medical standpoint, these points work in the body in different ways, but together they are able to stimulate labor. Some cause strong uterine contractions by stimulating the natural production of Oxytocin. Some stimulate dilation of the cervix by increase the natural production of prostaglandins, and some directly affect the sacral plexus to stimulate uterine contractions.
From an Eastern Medical standpoint, these points increase blood flow to the uterus, increase uterine contractions, and are descending and moving.
Acupuncture for Labor Induction is best used when the patient has reached 40 weeks gestation (I never treat anyone who has not reached 40 weeks), and has a healthy pregnancy with no complications.
There are several factor that determine the success of the treatments. These include, dilation of the cervix, effacement, gestation, and station of the baby. There is no progression recipe that will tell me/or other practitioner whether the treatments will work or not because everyone response differently to treatments. A mother may not be ripened, the baby not engaged, but the Uterus responds quickly to treatments.
Most often, mothers call me a day or two before they are scheduled to have a hospital induction. Although I have seen acupuncture inductions work almost immediately, the average time for the treatments to go into affect is 12 hours. According to research studies it can be between 3-48 hours from the beginning of treatments. Because we are stimulating the natural production of these hormones, this takes time. We have to stimulate the acupuncture points to stimulate to corresponding organs/glands to produce the hormones and then give those hormones time to travel to the uterus to stimulate labor. Unfortunately, just like all induction methods, it doesn't work for everyone. Sometimes there are unforeseen reasons that the body will not go into labor...as the quote above says, "if the fruit is not ripe, it will not fall." We cannot force the body to do what it is not naturally ready to do. If mother or baby are not ready then it will not work.
Recently a study was done at the University of North Carolina. The study included 56 women who are 39.5-41 weeks pregnant. Half of the women received 3 acupuncture session, and the other half received western medical induction methods. 70% of the women who received acupuncture went into labor naturally compared to 50% of the women who received standard western care. The women who received Acupuncture were also less likely to deliver via cesarean vs. the standard western care group - 17% vs 39%...that is a 50% decrease in cesarean delivery!!! Research was done by Terry Harper MD
When treating a mother for labor induction, I prefer to see her twice in one day, and I will then attach interdermal needles that can be worn after the treatments to continue to stimulate the acupuncture points. If the mother does go into labor, these tacks can be stimulated to increase contractions and speed the labor process....and some of the points can be used to decrease pain perception during labor as well.
The use of this technique goes beyond just inducing labor in healthy women, who have not gone into spontaneous labor. It can be applied to women who have had a rupture of membranes without the start of labor, women who are in labor but experience weakening, stalling, or irregular contractions.
Although Acupuncture for the induction of labor is safe, with no side effects, or additional risks of natural childbirth complications, there are some cases where is it not applicable. This includes CPD (Cephalopelvic disproportion) or obstructed labor, severe pre-eclampsia, kidney disease, pre-existing heart conditions, diabetes, bleeding during pregnancy, or previous cesarean delivery.