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Can Acupuncture Induce Labor? A Hamilton Osteopath and Trained Acupuncturist Answers

Updated: Apr 6, 2023


1. On balance, acupuncture aids the labor process but is not great at starting it. Nonetheless, it is worth implementing in the latter weeks of pregnancy to encourage natural birth.

2. It is unlikely to 'start' labor. But helps the body be prepared for it.

3. The research is clear that it's safe for both mum and baby

4. Electroacupuncture is worth trying and has some good scientific support. Acupressure is not likely to do much.

When can we start? First, we need to know if it will be safe for you and your baby. Generally, your midwife is up to speed and can give the all-clear to begin. This is often from 37 weeks. I prefer to try at 38 weeks or once a discussion about needing to be induced has begun (41 weeks+). This is based on the evidence currently available. However, we can start at 37 weeks if you have simply had enough, are quite uncomfortable, and want to do everything you can to meet your new little family member asap.

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An Example of EA. In pregnancy we lay woman on their side or have them sitting up. The needles are placed about the ankle and lower back. This gentleman was receiving EA for neck pain and clearly is not pregnant 🙃.

What does it do? In simple terms - acupuncture stimulates blood flow to the pelvis and encourages the cascade of hormones required for labour. More on this in the section below.

In research, we see that women who have had acupuncture tend to go into labour earlier than those that did not have acupuncture. More importantly, acupuncture women are significantly less likely to be induced. But ultimately, you cannot force the process. "The baby is going to do what the baby is going to do". It is worth noting that acupuncture will NOT reduce the likelihood of c-sections or ventouse deliveries.

How does it work? In general, Acupuncture works by stimulating nerves, hormones and

chemicals within your body to achieve the

desired result (read more here). Often this result is pain relief, however, we can stimulate the reproductive organs using the same processes. To do so, fine needles are carefully inserted at points over the body that has an effect on the uterus and/or on the hormones responsible for starting labour. At the very least, these points encourage blood flow to the uterus and help ease back ache.

Ideally, we would then use a firm electrical stimulation to amplify the effect of the needles. This is not painful. I would normally use about 10 needles in total, but this number depends on the person. At a minimum, we can get away with 2 needles. The needles rest in place for 15 - 25 minutes. You can read more about acupuncture and electroacupuncture here Can I just press on those points instead of having the needles? Just pressing on the points (aka acupressure) is unlikely to do much, but is safe to try. Alternatively, we teach and encourage the use of TENs machines as a way of stimulating the points. But please note that there is no research to say TENs will induce labour either, although it is far more plausible than simple acupressure. There is, however, a huge amount of good research to say that TENs are a safe and effective way to deal with labour pain. So what better way to get familiar with your TENs machine before the big day than when you're trying to induce labour?

If you have any questions please reach out! You can book online here.

Written by Darryl Jenkins

TLC osteopaths

Hamilton Nz

Darryl Jenkins is a friendly Hamilton osteopath and co-owner of TLC Osteopaths. His formal qualifications include a undergraduate certificate in Exercise science from Wintec, a degree in Human Biology from Unitec, and a master's degree in osteopathy from Unitec, where he also completed his thesis on human movement assessment. He also holds a postgraduate certificate in acupuncture from AUT which means he practices osteopathy and acupuncture. He would like to be pursuing the postgraduate certificate in Pain Science at Otago Uni (awaiting spouse approval).

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