Sage answers a question from the Advanced Maternal Age Project:
Q: I read that some women use acupuncture to induce labor as an alternative to pitocin after 39 weeks of gestation. How does this work and is it safe?
A: Acupuncture is often used as a safe and drug-free method for encouraging labor to commence. In fact, several studies have shown that acupuncture intervention is effective in facilitating a more efficient birth.
Labor induction, defined as when labor is “initiated artificially with drugs,” is actually a misnomer when used to describe how acupuncture works. Acupuncture supports the natural unfolding of the birthing process rather than an exogenous intervention forcing the body to do something it would not otherwise do.
- In our experience, the best results come when acupuncture is used as a pre-birth treatment, preparing the body for labor gradually with one treatment a week starting at 36-37 weeks gestation.
- This is the perfect time to reduce stress, and support energy and stamina for labor. Treatments are tailored to each individual woman’s body and pregnancy history, with a focus on ripening the cervix and positioning the baby optimally for labor.
As background, a 2004 observational study looked at the effect of pre-birth acupuncture (Medical acupuncture 2006 May; 17(3):17-20). Data on 169 women who received pre-birth acupuncture were compared to local population rates for gestation at onset of labor, incidence of medical induction, length of labor, use of analgesia and type of delivery:
- In the acupuncture group comparing all caregivers (including midwives, OBs and specialists) the following were the overall statistics: 35% reduction in the number of inductions (for women having their first baby this was a 43% reduction) and a 31% reduction in the epidural rate.
- When comparing midwifery only care, there was a 32% reduction in emergency caesarean delivery and a 9 % increase in normal vaginal births.
- There was no statistical difference in the onset of early labor in those women receiving pre-birth acupuncture.