Acupuncture in Pre-Birth Care – a Tool for Preparing the Body for a Better Birth

Most people are familiar with acupuncture for pain management, but did you know that acupuncture can help your body prepare for birth? I get a lot of calls inquiring about induction acupuncture, but less women are familiar with pre-birth acupuncture. Let me elaborate below.

What is pre-birth acupuncture?

Pre-birth acupuncture consists of a combination of preselected acupuncture points that have been noted to have a beneficial effect on birth. Mamas to be are seated comfortably while points are needled in or around the ankles and lower legs. Your practitioner may also add points chosen to address any individual health concerns that you may be experiencing (for example, anxiety). It is recommended that you start pre-birth acupuncture during weeks 36-37 of your pregnancy. Treatments are 30 minutes in length and occur once per week up until week 40 of your pregnancy.

Why pre-birth acupuncture?

In 2004, an observation study on acupuncture for pre-birth treatment was conducted on 169 women. In the group of women who received pre-birth acupuncture, there was a 35% overall reduction in the number of induced labours (for first time moms, there was a 43% reduction!), and a 32% reduction in epidural rate. This reduction occurred regardless of whether the caregiver was a midwife, GP, or specialist. In the group of women who received midwifery care, combined with pre-birth acupuncture, there was a 32% reduction in emergency caesarean delivery.

In this study, they observed that the pregnant women who received pre-birth treatment were more likely to go into spontaneous labour around their due dates; or if induction was required, they responded well to induction acupuncture and moved efficiently into natural labour without the need for a medical induction.

Lastly, there was no difference in the onset of early labour in those women receiving pre-birth acupuncture. Some women may be concerned that pre-birth acupuncture could induce an early labour, but pre-birth acupuncture has not been shown to do so. Acupuncture in general has been shown to be safe for mother and baby at all stages of pregnancy when treatment is with a qualified and licensed practitioner who is proficient in point selection and is aware of any contraindications for your specific needs and health status.

Other research has demonstrated that pre-birth acupuncture can shorten the duration of labour. For example, in a group of 140 women giving birth for the first time, labour was reduced from 8 hours and 2 minutes in the control group to 6 hours and 36 minutes in the group that received pre-birth acupuncture. A study following this one identified that pre-birth acupuncture had positive effects on the duration of labour by shortening the first stage of labour, defined as the time interval between 3 cm cervical dilatation and complete dilation. The acupuncture group had a median duration of 196 minutes compared to the control group time of 321 minutes, (acupuncture group 3 hours and 26 minutes compared to the control group 5 hours and 35 minutes).

Finally, although I always encourage my pregnant patients presenting with breech babies to seek out chiropractic care from a chiropractic doctor with a focus in perinatal care, there are specific acupuncture points (along with a treatment called moxibustion) that can be added to pre-birth treatments to encourage rotation of a breech-presenting baby.

So, as you get ready to meet your little one, consider including pre-birth acupuncture treatments as a way to prepare your body for birth, relax your mind and body, and enjoy some quiet time with your baby before his or her arrival.

In health,

Dr. Willow

References:

  • Betts D, Lennox S. Acupuncture for prebirth treatment: An observational study of its use in midwifery practice. Medical Acupuncture, 2006 May; 17(3):17-20.
  • Rabl M, Ahner R, Bitschnau M, Zeisler H, Husslein P. Acupuncture for cervical ripening and induction of labour at term – a randomised controlled trail. Wien Klin Wochenschr 2001; 113 (23-24): 942-6.
  • Kubista E Kucera H. Geburtshilfe Perinatol. 1974; 178 224-9
  • Tempfer C, Zeisler H, Mayerhofe Kr, Barrada M Husslein P. Influence of acupuncture on duration of labour. Gynecol Obstet Invest, 1998; 46:22-5.
  • Citkovitz C; Klimenko E; Bolyai M; Applewhite L; Julliard K; Weiner Z.  Effects of acupuncture during labor and delivery in a U.S. hospital setting: a case-control pilot study. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 2009 May; 15 (5): 501-5.
  • Smith CA, Crowther CA. Acupuncture for induction of labour. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2004, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD002962.
  • Cardini F, Weixin H. Moxibustion for correction of breech presentation. JAMA 1998; 280:1580-1584