Who may need assistance to bring on labor?
Some pregnant women may be close to or past their due date and may be given a deadline by their Obstetrician. They do not want to have a C-Section but it seems like everything is pointing in that direction.
In such cases, there are a couple of interventions for bringing on labor that have been tried as an alternative to a medical induction.
How to know I am in Labor?
There are some signs that will tell you that labor has begun.
- Belly and lower back pain
- Your water breaks
- Changes in vaginal discharge or “bloody show”
- Strong, frequent contractions (not Braxton Hicks)
What are some things that help to bring on labor?
Here is a list of things that you can try as an alternative to a medical induction:
- Spicy food
- Red raspberry leaf tea
- Evening primrose oil
- Clarysage Essential Oil
- Castor oil
- Long walks
- Chinese herbs
Chinese Herbs? Do Chinese Herbs help to Bring on Labor?
There are some Chinese herbs that may help with starting the contractions. These herbs help with circulation in the pelvis and promote uterine contraction.
One such herb is called Leonurus Artemisia, also known as Chinese Motherwort. Some of you may have heard of Red Raspberry Leaf Tea, but Leonurus is definitely worth knowing for its uterine tonic and emmenagogic properties!
How does Acupuncture help to Bring on Labor?
Acupuncture helps potentiate physiological processes preceding labor by causing the uterus to contract at this time. The acupuncture will get the uterus used to the idea of contraction, but in a gentle way.
We do not call it an induction of labor as it is a process that is mild enough to be considered as aligned to facilitating the body’s own physiology.
To a large extent, we do not want to force the baby to come down. We just want to nudge the body along in doing the work.
Is it Safe to use Acupuncture to Bring on Labor?
Acupuncture does it very well. Most recipient do not experience the strong contractions associated with PROM or Pitocin. Instead, the common response is that “the baby is moving more,” likely due to a low level increase in uterine activity.
Difference between Acupuncture to turn a Breech Baby and Acupuncture to Bring on Labor
The use of acupuncture to turn breeches as well as acupuncture to bring on labor have been documented throughout the history of Chinese medicine.
There are differences between these two treatment objectives.
When acupuncture is used to turn breech babies, the acupuncture points used are more of a nudge than a contraction. When we give such treatments, the outcome we are looking for is that the baby goes head-down. It doesn’t need too forceful a treatment and usually just replies on consistent ‘nudges’ that communicate ‘head-down’ to your baby.
When acupuncture is used to bring on labor, we are using stronger acupuncture points that are known to cause uterine contraction. These points are contraindication during the rest of pregnancy, but can be especially useful when you are close to or past your EDD.
Difference between Medical Induction and Acupuncture to Bring on Labor
Possible stage of Medical Induction
The first line of intervention is intravaginal prostaglandin application. This can be in the form of a gel, but is often a pessary placed intravaginally. What happens is the prostaglandin (which is the cause of menstrual cramps) will facilitate contraction of the uterus, while also ripening the cervix.
Once the cervix is ripened adequately (soft, thin and dilated), the next line of intervention would the to break the waterbag. This is called PROM or premature rupture of membranes. PROM usually causes some level of painful contractions.
Then there is the use of Pitocin that helps maintain contractions to a certain frequency.
Acupuncture helps to ripen the cervix
We know from Rabl et al (2001) that the use of acupuncture may reduce the percentage of post-date inductions.
In the study, it was found that:
- Those who received acupuncture had a shorter time to labor (2.9 days difference) than those who did not receive acupuncture.
- 20% of women in the acupuncture group still needed to begin medical induction, but the percentage was much higher (35%) in the other group of women.
- 56% of women who received acupuncture ended up receiving Pitocin. This percentage was higher (65%) in the other group.
Acupuncture reduces likelihood of Post-dated C-Sections In First-time Mothers
In a study by Harper et al (2006) of 56 women at 39+ weeks of pregnancy, we know that acupuncture is a safe intervention that can help
- increase changes of Spontaneous Labor
- reduce changes of post-dated C-Sections
The stats below:
- While not statistically significant, mean time to delivery was 21 hours earlier in the women receiving acupuncture.
- Women in the acupuncture group were more likely to labor spontaneously (70%) compared to those not receiving acupuncture (50%)
- Women in the acupuncture group were had 39% less C-section deliveries compared to the other group (17% less C-section deliveries)
- Women in the acupuncture group were more likely to experience natural delivery — this only includes all the women who were not induced.
Acupuncture is better than Sham Acupuncture at bringing on labor
In a study by Laura Gaudet et al (2008), which is a first-of-its-kind pilot study involving sham acupuncture, we know that
- It is not just putting needling in random points that facilitates labor.
- It is use of certain acupoints that helps to bring on labor.
While the number and frequency of treatments was set to 2 a week, it is not unreasonable to believe that increased frequency would only increase efficacy.
The results were:
- The real acupuncture group had 146 hours before delivery was completed. The sham acupuncture group took 62 hours longer (208 hours).
- The real acupuncture group had a mean labor duration of 9.42 hours. This was about 2 hours shorter than that of the other group (11.78 hours).
The bottom line
Acupuncture is one of the least aggressive ways to help bring on labor if you are past EDD as a pregnant lady.
This intervention make even more sense when you are hoping for a natural birth, but are giving a timeline from your obstetrician.
There are many acupuncturists all over the world who do this. Just make sure you find an acupuncturist who has had enough training and experience in this work.