Can acupuncture help with labour pains?

Can acupuncture - the ancient Chinese medical treatment using needles - really help make labour calmer and less painful? Here's how it works, who can use it, plus everything else you need to know...

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Acupuncture is one of many complementary therapies you can try during your labour – instead of or in addition to your standard pain relief options.

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It’s a traditional, natural Chinese treatment which you can have during your pregnancy AND while you’re actually giving birth, when done by a trained professional.

Generally, acupuncture’s designed to ‘promote self-healing’, release tension in the body, tackle pain and generally make you feel much more balanced. 

So, how does it work during labour – and is there any evidence to suggest it can do you good during childbirth?

Here’s everything you need to know about acupuncture for labour…

What is acupuncture? 

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese form of medicine based on balancing the body’s ‘vital energy’ or ‘qi’ (chi).

The theory is that qi travels along specific routes up and down the body and is concentrated in certain key body surface areas known as acupuncture points.

And check this out: acupuncture treatment’s been around for over 2,500 years now 😱

How does acupuncture work?

Acupuncture involves stimulating the points that represent whatever internal organ, muscle etc. requires treatment, in order to rebalance the body’s qi.

An area to be treated may be represented in several acupuncture points. This stimulation is most commonly applied with very fine needles.

Can acupuncture provide pain relief in labour?

For labour itself, acupuncture has been known to provide pain relief fairly unobtrusively.

Needles are usually used on one ear and are stimulated with electrical impulses, similar to how a TENS machine works.

Acupuncture may also be used to help kick-start labour if you’re overdue, to speed up contractions if labour has slowed down, or simply to help you relax.

However, it won’t have the desired affect on everyone, though if it doesn’t work for you during labour, you’re still able to explore other therapies and more traditional forms of pain relief.

The beauty of acupuncture in labour is you can stop the treatment whenever you feel like it.

acupuncture

Who can have acupuncture in labour?

To have acupuncture, you need to have a fully qualified acupuncturist on board.

In the run up to labour you can visit an acupuncturist, but you will probably need to privately organise for an acupuncturist to be present at the birth.

It is possible that your hospital or birthing centre may have an acupuncture practitioner, so there’s no harm in asking ahead of time.

And, yes, this does mean you can use acupuncture for a home birth, too.

How do I find an acupuncturist for my labour?

We’d recommend going through the British Acupuncture Council to find reputable practitioners.

You’ll likely meet with them once before, at least, to go through your needs in an initial consultation.

There are also good resources and a practitioner-finding tool on the British Medical Acupuncture Society website.

What evidence is there that acupuncture can help during labour?

There is some evidence that acupuncture works – though it’s never been proven conclusively, as far as we know.

Generally, the theory is that acupuncture has an effect on the central nervous system, affecting brain function to block the transmission of pain and stimulate the release endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers.

Is acupuncture safe during labour?

It’s totally safe to use acupuncture during both pregnancy and labour. There are no side effects for either you or your baby.

However, it’s not like a normal massage – you shouldn’t try it yourself at home. Make sure you use a reputable and properly qualified professional!

Pros and cons of using acupuncture in labour

Like all pain relief options and complementary therapies for labour, there are upsides and downsides.

Take a look at some of the pros and cons for using acupuncture in labour, while you’re weighing up your options…

Advantages of acupuncture in labour are:

  • Works externally so does not affect either the baby or the mother’s chemical balance
  • There is no evidence of medical risks associated with using acupuncture
  • Allows you to be mobile
  • Doesn’t interfere with your control over labour
  • You can stop whenever you feel it’s not working for you
  • Can be used in conjunction with other pain relief, such as gas and air
  • Can be used for home births

Disadvantages of acupuncture in labour are:

  • You may well need to organise (and pay for) advanced acupuncture privately
  • You may find that the acupuncture doesn’t do much for you, or that the added stimulus becomes irritating (but in that case you can simply abandon it)
  • You can’t use electro-stimulus with acupuncture in a birthing pool

Share your experience

Did you have acupucnture during you labour? Perhaps you had treatment to help induce labour?

We’d love to hear your story if so. Get in touch in the comments below, on Facebook or on our Instagram

Images: Getty Images

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