Acupuncture for Cervical Ripening & Labour Induction

Midwives and obstetricians are increasingly referring their patients to Chinese medicine doctors to perform acupuncture to help get their bodies ready for childbirth.  Stories about how acupuncture helped ease the birth passage and stimulate contractions are well documented in Chinese history because it indeed gives great results!

According to traditional Chinese medicine, at the end of pregnancy, there is a shift from yin (accumulation) to yang (activity). Yang provides the movement that delivers the baby. Qi (energy) pushes blood and the uterine door opens in a significant downward movement. Therefore, the three factors that should be in place to initiate labour are 1) Yang activity replaces yin material growth 2) Qi flows freely and moves blood and 3) the door of the uterus opens.

When Qi and blood flow freely, a harmonious labor follows with contractions, dilation of the cervix, rupture of the waters, and birth of the baby.

As a doctor of Chinese medicine, I love seeing women at the end of their pregnancies to help initiate the labour process and I do this with acupuncture. The acupuncture treatments are very relaxing and consist of points on the hands, feet, above ankles, and upper shoulders plus the forehead as a calming point. Sometimes points will be placed on the lower back with the woman lying on her side but in majority of cases I administer points with the woman lying comfortably on her back. The number of needles are kept to a minimum. There is no physical examination or manipulation of the belly or any other part of the body. Women can look forward to very comfortable and relaxing visits. On occasion, women have even fallen asleep during their visits. Each visit takes approximately forty-five minutes to one hour.

Ideally, treatments should begin with pre-birth acupuncture performed once per week starting at 36 weeks of pregnancy.  After the due date, labour induction treatments begin. The pre-birth acupuncture helps women to get ready for a more efficient labour with a reduced rate of medical intervention needed. The emphasis is on regulating the woman’s Qi and blood prior to delivery. If Qi and blood are regulated and moving well, the labour will be harmonious.  Acupuncture prepares the cervix and pelvis for labour, it aids in cervical dilation, helps relax muscle tension, has a strong descending action and increases the activity of the baby. Patients often feel their baby move during the treatment.

For specifically labour induction treatments (when the woman is already close to or past her due date), the number of treatments needed are typically one to three. Women often go into labour between 6 to 24 hours after treatment.

Even if you didn’t receive any acupuncture throughout your pregnancy, it’s still extremely beneficial to get acupuncture treatment as pre-birth treatments or labour induction treatments if you’re past or nearing your due date.

Another important aspect of the treatments is to support the emotional well-being of the expectant mother. Stress causes our circulation to constrict and causes Qi to become blocked which can prevent a smooth delivery. Acupuncture calms anxiety, fears, and the stresses around childbirth.

If the baby is in the posterior position, this places an added stress on childbirth. Acupuncture and moxibustion (moxa) are applied to certain acupuncture points (the most important point being on the little toe) in order to stimulate activity of the baby and move the baby into its proper position.  Moxa involves the burning of an herb called mugwort essentially heating the acupuncture points promoting more Qi and blood circulation. The woman will likely need added acupuncture treatments to address the baby’s position.

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