In Asia, traditional medicine practitioners have been using acupuncture to induce labor for centuries. In Western countries, however, it’s a relatively new experience for women – but one that deserves a closer look, especially if your due date has come and gone and you’re looking for ways to help the baby along.
What the Experts Say
One of the most comprehensive assessments of acupuncture to induce labor was conducted in 2008. A systematic review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews looked into three different studies to determine whether acupuncture can indeed induce labor and/or lead to cervical opening in pregnant women. All of the women who participated in the studies were in their third trimester and either very close to or past their due date.
While the studies analyzed were small and more research is required to confirm the findings, the Cochrane study found that women using acupuncture required less medical help and less use of technical induction methods to start labor than women relying only on traditional care.
Even more important, perhaps, is the fact that the review found no adverse effects of the use of acupuncture to induce labor. This means even if it doesn’t benefit every patient who uses acupuncture, it might still be worth consideration.
Other Labor-Related Benefits
One of the studies reviewed by Cochrane was a German study that looked into the use of acupuncture for “cervical ripening and induction of labor at term.” The results were very clear: women who had acupuncture treatments delivered their babies in an average of 2.3 days after the appearance of pre-labor symptoms, but women who did not receive acupuncture averaged 4.2 days.
While women from both groups ended up receiving drugs to speed up cervical dilation and delivery, the women undergoing acupuncture treatments experienced cervical dilation and cervical ripening faster than those in the control group. They also delivered their babies faster than those not receiving acupuncture.
Some Things to Consider
In the Cochrane Review, experts also found that acupuncture is even more effective when used after women have started showing pre-labor signs, including abdominal tightening and lower back pain. In those women, acupuncture sessions were effective in speeding up labor. Some women experience an increase in abdominal tightening and a strong urge to urinate when using acupuncture at this stage, but experts believe these are just natural responses to the treatment and an indication that things are progressing positively.
There’s no such thing as “the perfect time” to start acupuncture sessions to induce labor, so this is something that must be discussed with your doctor. However, experts do agree that the effect of acupuncture on labor is almost immediate, so you should avoid having it done until you are ready to deliver. Women who are past their due date or are within a couple of days of their due date are good candidates.
Another thing to keep in mind: acupuncture has been shown to reduce labor pain. In fact, recent
studies show that women who use acupuncture experience less pain, request fewer pain-relieving drugs and have an overall more comfortable delivery experience than those who use no support treatment of any kind.