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Acupuncture and Labor

by emjaybee

As many of you know, Jill and Tara are at the Homebirth Consensus Summit, which is why you are being treated to the very rare instance of me posting something involving research.

But don’t worry, it’s about acupuncture.

Acupuncture in Germany, to be exact. This study (PDF) was based on 409,413 deliveries between 2001 and 2008, which, according to the study’s authors, included more than more than 95% of all deliveries in the German state of Hesse during that time.

Acupuncture was only used in 3.7% of all deliveries, and other complementary-alternative methods (they don’t list which ones) in 4.8% of deliveries.

Interestingly, it was more rural hospitals that were likeliest to have women who used these methods, but also women with “higher job qualifications” which I take to mean level of education/employment.

Also, acupuncture and/or complementary-alternative methods was associated with a higher use of analgesics during labor. They could not find a meaningful connection between use of acupuncture and hastening the start of labor, or shortening the length of delivery, though there did seem to be some connection to more vaginal deliveries.

As a person who does not live and breathe stats, I’m not going to make any suggestions as to the meaningfulness of this data, or the sample size, or the use of comparing the experience of German women to Americans.

For myself, I’m not much on acupuncture in general, given that I don’t find it appealing as pain relief, but then, even if it only produces a calming effect for some women, that seems like it could be a useful thing in labor. It would be interesting to interview the women in the study who did use it and get their feedback as to whether they felt it helped or not, even if they went on to use other kinds of pain relief.

What say you, readers? Any experience in using acupuncture or seeing it used?

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Reader Comments (7)

I have used acupuncture and acupressure in labor but it was for a very specific issue and it did provide some pain relief.

In every labor I've had, I've had both the typical pain from contractions as well as a feeling of tightening and pain that runs down the outside of my thighs during each contraction. The pain in my thighs is at times worse or more difficult to bear than the contraction pain and is lessened by having my legs relaxed and not supporting my weight which interferes with my desire to be standing or walking. During a homebirth, I mentioned the pain in my legs (I had experienced the same sensation in my first labor) and was surprised to hear that my midwife who has many years of experience had only ever had one other woman in labor make a similar complaint.

As time went on and my labor was slower (contractions 6 -10 min apart vs. 3 min apart when standing) because I was sitting rather than standing or walking due to the leg pain. My midwife, who is trained in traditional Chinese medicine, offered to place needles that might relieve the pain in my legs. I've had acupuncture a few times before in my life and I agreed. When the needles were placed, the pain in my legs was totally resolved while the contraction pain stayed the same. I left the needles in for a while but as they were typical acupuncture needles and I was afraid of bumping them, I didn't move too much more with them in and ended up having them taken out after about 90 minutes. The pain in my legs returned at that point, my labor continued to progress and a few hours later I gave birth to a healthy baby.

Two years later during an induced labor at a hospital, a good friend who was functioning as a doula remembered this story and began to do acupressure on the same spots. This also relieved the pain I was having in my legs (while not changing the quality or pain of the contractions) It definitely made the experience more manageable for me.

So, I had acupuncture in labor for a highly specific complaint and it did provide some pain relief. It didn't provide total pain relief. I didn't experience any noticeable "calming" feelings that I have during other acupuncture sessions. I don't think it shortened the length of my labors but it did encourage mobility in labor (which could have been enhanced by using a different type of acupuncture needle that wouldn't have left me in fear of the needles being bumped into)

October 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

I like acupuncture to treat a variety of things, but I can't imagine how it would work in labor. My desire to move through my labor is much to strong to be able to lie still and relax and not worry about knocking needles out. As it is, at 38 weeks pregnant, I can only muster about 15 minutes of still time at the acupuncturist before I inevitably must move something and need to call it quits.

October 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStemarschlaw

I have had acupuncture used in a variety of settings and have found it immensely helpful. I had a treatment hours before going into labor as a form of relaxation and gentle push to my body to start labor. And I had the most beautiful and calm labor. I would have used the acupuncturist during labor if I had known about her (I would only use someone specifically trained in pregnancy and labor). I can imagine acupuncture could be incredibly helpful for many women throughout pregnancy and labor (especially morning sickness, preparing for labor, and relaxation and pain relief during). Of course it doesn't appeal to/ work for everyone.

October 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErin

As someone who just recently got the diagnosis of PFD, ten months after my son's birth, this IS ground breaking to me. I have done my kegels, before and after delivery. I did my massages for stretching my perineum. I had a 3rd degree episiotomy when my son was in severe distress and it was that or lose him (he was 33 weeks and went to the NICU). I did everything "right" yet I suffer from this debilitating problem that causes so many problems that I cannot even have sex with my husband. This study lets me know I'm not alone. I'm working on this problem so that MAYBE next time I won't face the same issues. Thank you!

October 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLindsay

I've used acupuncture for pain relief during pregnancy but never during labor. It was extremely affective in relieving back pain and had an amazing calming affect. I would love to be able to use it while in labor. It's not like it would hurt to try. With some labors, you feel like you just need to "take the edge off" and this would be a great alternative to medications.

October 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLiz

As both an Acupuncturist and a doula I would like to offer my experiences of what I have witnessed as I support women through their pregnancy and birth. Women who have received 3 or more treatments (generally weekly) leading up to the birth of their baby are less likely to be induced and have a generally shorter labour. I have never used acupuncture as a form of pain relief for my clients in labour. As birthing mammals we have beta-endorphins to help with this, so why would I want to interfere with this by sticking pins in someone? I have, however, used acupuncture in labour to help with turning a posterior baby, helping revive regular contractions which had slowed down, and helping a woman through an anxiety episode. Because women during labour have so much more blood and Qi circulating around their bodies I don't have to leave needles in for very long at all to have a good effect - the time between contractions is enough. I get asked a lot if acupuncture is good or effective at relieving the pain in labour and I have to say no, in my experience I don't use it for this reason. Other reasons yes, but labour is intense - you are suppose to have some feeling when your body is trying to squeeze and expel a baby - it's only natural to feel this!!!! You are meant to feel this - whether you feel it as pain, or intensity or ecstasy - the brain responds by producing endorphins which helps further the labour, the bonding process and breastfeeding. I will only use acupuncture when other non invasive techiniques have not worked. Acupressure however - particularly int he lower back works wonders for women who are having a posterior labour. Iin my experience acupuncture is not used for pain relief, but for all other birthing matters acupuncture is particularly wonderful. Happy birthing!

October 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPS

I had acupuncture during my first labor, when the baby with occiput posterior. I'd been in labor for over 24 hours, and was only 4 cm dilated because the contractions were really pushing at my sacrum instead of my perineum. I was on my hand and knees, the doctor placed the needles and had to leave. She asked the nurse or my family to wiggle the needles occasionally (over my sacrum, ankle, and ear, I believe). Everyone was too scared to touch the needles, unfortunately. I had a dose of staydol (sp?) after that, and was able to sleep between contractions, a strange experience. However, the baby turned with these two interventions, and I went on to have a very easy pushing stage and birth. The acupuncture didn't affect the pain, but I do believe it helped the baby turn, and my labor become more productive. I actually used electrical stimulation over my low back and sacrum during my second (much faster) labor, and that seemed to help with back pain.

October 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJenn
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