Acupuncture for Inducing Labour: How It Works, Safety & Benefits

Acupuncture to Induce Labour – Is It Right for You?

Acupuncture, an ancient, natural pain relief technique involves the insertion of thin needles into various pressure points to release pain and pressure. Lately, it has started gaining popularity as a means to initiate labour. Studies suggest that women who had performed acupuncture during pregnancy had an increased likelihood of getting into labour naturally, thereby reducing their chance of needing a cesarean for delivery. Applying acupressure is usually easy, and it can be quite effective in inducing labour when done by a professional. Acupressure can be a great way to kick-start labour without relying on a medical ‘push’.

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is one of the earliest known healthcare systems in the world. Originated in China, it is an alternative medical practice that works on the belief that life energy flows through the body and any blockage which interrupts this energy flow can result in pain or disease. According to traditional Chinese medicine, health is a harmonious equilibrium of complementary life force extremes, “yin” and “yang”. Any imbalance of these life forces can cause illness. Practitioners inject very thin needles to different depths at specific body points to relieve pressure, clear blockages and facilitate the flow of energy. The resultant balancing of energy helps boost one’s well-being and brings relief from pain and health issues like headaches, whooping cough, and blood pressure problems.

Is Acupuncture Safe to Induce Labour?

The acupuncture points can be helpful during childbirth. It may be a subtle and harmless way to induce labour without side effects. The limited studies conducted till date reveal that the use of acupuncture is safe in order to induce labour, and no known harmful effects to the expectant mother and her unborn child have been recorded. However, more research is required to study in detail its efficiency to prompt labour and ascertain all the likely risks. Insufficient evidence makes it tough to guarantee its safety.

It is advisable to use acupuncture to induce labour only if the expectant mother is 40 weeks pregnant – it may be inherently dangerous to apply it earlier as it might encourage labour too early. Also, it is important to allow a trained and skilled acupuncturist to perform it instead of trying it on one’s own. The use of disposable, pre-sterilised needles and maintaining strict hygiene is essential to avoid any probable infections later on.

Make sure the acupuncture needles are properly sterilised

How Does Acupuncture Work During Labour?

Acupuncture and labour may have a strong connection. Acupuncture can stimulate a pregnant woman’s body once she has completed the gestation period to get ready for labour. Needling can trigger her body to release prostaglandins which ripen the cervix, and Oxycontin, which generates contractions. The production of hormones naturally develops a gradual start of labour rather than a traumatic one, and the expectant mom is more likely to have a smooth and easy delivery. Some doctors like to call acupuncture “labour preparation” as it preps the mother and baby for the childbirth process by relaxing the body and activating hormone release, followed by uterine contractions. In any case, the therapy helps the pregnant women relax and feel good.

Can Acupuncture Relieve Labour Pain?

There are two primary theories about how acupuncture can help relieve labour pain. One is built on neuroscience, which believes that needling stimulates nerves, connective tissues and muscles which enhances blood flow and signals the brain to release the body’s natural painkillers – endorphins. Endorphins are believed to be more potent than the popular narcotic, morphine, in diminishing even severe pain. Another theory states that an acupuncture birth may help in decreasing the body’s inflammatory proteins causing reduction in pain and inflammation.

Most mainstream doctors are accepting of the therapy’s technique for pain relief particularly when conventional medicine isn’t useful. However, acupuncture continues to be controversial in Western medical science. It is hard to establish investigations using scientific controls owing to the invasive nature of the technique; therefore, it remains unclear how acupuncture may work scientifically to benefit with pain relief during labour.

Acupuncture helps relax sore muscles, thus helping the expectant mother

How Many Acupuncture Treatments Are Required to Induce Labour?

Acupuncture is simply a means to spark the progression of natural labour. It may work differently for different people and in different situations. In instances where pregnant women have completed full gestation, they may require between one and three acupuncture treatments before labour commences. Several studies indicate that labour normally starts 6 to 48 hours after an acupuncture session. In case a pregnant woman is overdue, she may like to receive treatment every alternate day to provoke labour. On an average, things may progress for most pregnant women after 2 to 3 treatments. However, it is advisable to speak to a doctor before seeking acupuncture treatments while pregnant.

How Quickly and Effectively Will Acupuncture Work To Induce Labour?

An acupuncturist may not be able to use all the pressure points when dealing with pregnant women because of their stimulating impact on the body. Some points, like the lower back or upper shoulders may already be sore due to pregnancy. Thus, the treatment can comfort and soothe some of the aches and pains which in turn may provide an additional boost of energy that is much needed at the time of labour and delivery.

Further studies show that pregnant women who received 2 to 3 acupuncture sessions advanced into labour naturally compared to women who received only standard care. But needling may not cause labour if the body is not ready for it. Research reports that in cases where mothers are overdue, the success rate of acupuncture to bring on labour is almost 88 %.

Therefore, the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment in bringing relief from pain at various stages of labour may be promising, but its effect or usefulness in causing labour is not definitive.

Pregnant women may require 1 to 3 sessions of acupuncture, depending on their gestation status

Benefits of Acupuncture to Induce Labour

Some of the possible benefits of acupuncture to induce labour can be:

  • Pregnant women are less likely to experience extreme pain and ask for epidurals for pain relief because of acupuncture therapy
  • It may induce adequate relaxation and calmness which can help pregnant women during labour. Relaxed muscles can translate into a feeling of less pain in labour
  • Being calm can result in the release of Oxycontin, which is responsible for producing contractions, thereby averting unnecessary intervention
  • At times, the childbirth process may take a lot of time, causing much distress. In such scenarios, acupuncture can be most helpful to incite labour


Some of the frequently asked questions about acupuncture are:

1. Should I Consult an Acupuncturist Who Specialises in Pregnancy?

Every individual may have a different requirement of acupuncture. Also, most maternity hospitals do not support this practice. Therefore, pregnant women who want to opt for acupuncture may have to look for  private acupuncturists who are experts in managing such cases. It is important to consider one’s finances as it can be expensive.

2. Should I Get Acupuncture Before 35 Weeks of Pregnancy?

No, you should not attempt to start labour before 35 weeks of pregnancy. The topic of early induction has generated much discussion. Almost all doctors agree that the delivery process should not be hastened by acupuncture except if it is medically compulsory.

Acupuncture treatments may have many advantages for expectant moms. Some women may prefer to explore alternative medicine to incite labour to avoid the use of drugs and their side effects. But more conclusive research is required for acupuncture to be accepted in mainstream medical practices. Someday, it can benefit more women to give birth naturally (vaginally).

Also Read: Best Ways to Induce Labour Naturally

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