It is understood that acupuncture in labour may work by increasing the release of oxytocin and endorphins and by inhibiting the release of adrenalin. Treatment can be used for calming the mother and for promoting the efficiency of contractions. Fine gauge needles and massage are used in combination to simulate acupuncture points in the low back, abdomen, feet and hands. Small needles may also be inserted and retained in points in the ear. Ear treatment permits full mobility and may also be used when the mother is in a water bath. A TENS machine may be used to apply an electrical current to some of the needles.
Acupuncture in early labour:
Acupuncture may not be necessary in pre-labour if the mother is remaining calm. Induction points (see above) may be used to augment the contractions of pre-labour. Ear points may be used to calm the mother. Specific points in the hands and feet may be used for nausea, exhaustion or panic.
Acupuncture in established labour:
The aim of the acupuncturist is to encourage the woman in labour to remain body-centered, and inwardly focused. Acupuncture to both ear and bodily points can help her to maintain her focus and also to maintain regular efficient contractions. It can speed up the rate of dilation of the cervix and may help resolve the persistence of a cervical lip. Acupressure massage can help considerably with pain relief.
Acupuncture in the third stage of labour:
Further needle stimulation can promote uterine contractions in a delayed third stage of labour, and can be used to promote delayed delivery of the placenta. Points used may be on the hands, feet and shoulder. Treatment to toes and back, including the application of moxibustion* herbs may promote cessation of excessive uterine bleeding after delivery of the placenta. Points in the hands and feet may be used to treat emotional shock after a precipitate or traumatic labour.
* Moxa is a form of herbaceous perennial (Artemesia) used in a process called “moxibustion.” This involves smouldering a small amount of the dried herb close the region of the acupuncture point. The herb may be compacted in the form of a cone and placed directly on the skin, compacted in the form of a stick and held close to the point, or may be smouldered in an enclosed box which is placed in the region of an acupuncture point. When smouldering, the herb has a distinctive warm aromatic smell. This herb may smoke, so in consideration of births which take place in a hospital or birthing unit, smokeless moxa is used except in cases of prior consent or emergency.
Acupuncture should only be used for the induction of an otherwise healthy pregnancy at least 7 days after the estimated delivery date. The effects of acupuncture induction are a slow increase in tone of the uterine muscle which means that the effects of treatments are cumulative and not sudden. Treatments involve needle stimulation of points in the hands, feet and lower back, and may include massage of shoulder points. Needles are left in for up to 50 minutes per treatment, during which the mother might experience mild contractions and feels the baby move. Successive treatments over a period of 3 to 5 days may be required.