Using acupuncture to prepare for birth
Have you considered preparing your body and mind for birth with the help of acupuncture? Chances are you haven’t heard of the benefits.
Hospital classes, breathing techniques, yoga and books – you’re sure to have covered them off - but needles – who ever said anything about needles?
Usually the first a pregnant woman hears about acupuncture is when she has reached her due date and nothing has happened. Her midwife or obstetrician may then suggest she try acupuncture to help kick start a natural labour. And this is the first time I see a lot of pregnant women – unfortunately.
The trouble with this process is the underlying reason why a woman hasn’t gone into spontaneous labour hasn’t been addressed and therefore labour can stop and start and more interventions may be needed after all. From a Chinese medicine perspective this means her spleen, kidney and liver energy need to be strong and balanced. This usually takes a couple of weeks to treat.
A woman’s biology is set up so that she does not labour when she is scared. She must be in a comfortable place and be of a positive mind set.
The treatments also involve assisting her cervix to ripen, coaxing her baby into the best possible position for birth and relaxing muscles and tendons. This is why a treatment to merely bring on contractions may achieve that but will be in vain if the rest of the jigsaw puzzle has not been attended to first.
In 1974, a study was published in The American Journal of Acupuncture. It concluded that acupuncture as a form of birth preparation helped to reduce the average time a woman spends in labour.
A randomised controlled trial in 2001 by Rabl and team involved 45 women and studied the effect of acupuncture on cervical ripening in the hope of reducing inductions. The authors concluded that acupuncture helped to ripen the cervix and it shortened the time between the due date and the actual delivery date, thereby decreasing the need for a medical induction.
Then in 2006 an observational study was published in the Medical Acupuncture Journal. It involved fourteen midwives who recorded their acupuncture treatments with 169 women over a four-month period. They recorded how many weeks gestation the women were at the time of labour, whether or not they received a medical induction, the length of labour, the type of pain relief used and ultimately what type of delivery they had.
When they compared their results to other women in the same region, they found: There was a 35% reduction in the number of inductions for women overall, for first-time pregnant women this was reduced by 43%. There was a 31% reduction in epidural rate and when compared to the local midwifery practice. There was a 32% reduction in caesarean sections and a 9% increase in normal vaginal births. The study concluded that it looked very promising for women to receive acupuncture prior to their birth.
As a result of these studies, pregnant women are encouraged to have weekly acupuncture treatment in the four weeks prior to birth. The acupuncture treats for any imbalances in the organ systems according to Chinese medicine, as well as help the baby to engage if need be, start to ripen the cervix, relax muscles and tendons and calm the mind.
How Chinese medicine sees your body during pregnancy
From a Chinese medicine perspective, if a woman has experienced any swelling in her last trimester, this is a sign that her Spleen energy is weak and needs strengthening. Her body is having trouble dealing with the extra fluid, so her body is more “damp” and “stagnant”. Therefore it would not be unusual for her to go over her due date. Treating this with acupuncture and diet in the lead up to birth would help to turn this around so she may be able to avoid a medical induction.
If a woman is stressed, this indicates her liver energy needs addressing. In Chinese medicine we refer to it as “stuck” Liver Qi (energy). Acupuncture and diet can help the Qi to flow smoothly and hence help labour to go smoothly also.
If a woman is fearful, this indicates her kidney energy needs strengthening as this may also ensure labour starts later than it needs to. A woman’s biology is set up so that she does not labour when she is scared. She must be in a comfortable place and be of a positive mind set for natural spontaneous labour to start and then progress. Acupuncture and diet can help to dispel fears and improve the kidney energy thereby improving outcomes for mum and baby when it comes to labour.
Rebecca Mar Young is an acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist who specialises in treating pregnant women, mums and children. She is a mother of one and lives in Sydney. She is passionate about improving women’s health throughout their journey from woman to mother and beyond.
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