Labor Preparation with Oriental Medicine
by T. Quinn Evans, DOM
Because I am married to a Doula, I started seeing women who wanted to avoid chemical inductions by using acupuncture. I would only get to see them at the last minute. It might have been that there was a medical reason, high blood pressure, a lack of amniotic fluid; it might have been fears raised by a care provider or a friend, “the baby is getting too big”; or it may have been that labor had not started soon after her estimated due date. With a chemical induction scheduled for the end of the week, acupuncture treatments had to be strong and vigorous. I was in, effect, creating an acupuncture induction- seemingly pushing the body to go where it was not quite ready to go. This was using acupuncture in a way that ran somewhat against the nature of the medicine. Where a western drug strongly promotes the desired affect, in ways that the body finds difficult to ignore, acupuncture takes a gentler approach. Acupuncture is good for making suggestions to the body.
The acupuncture points that are commonly used to induce labor are traditionally “forbidden in pregnancy”. These points are proscribed because in some conditions they will induce labor. This is still very different from introducing drugs that mimic the hormones that the body produces when in labor. When a healthy woman is simply not ready to begin labor these points alone would do a small amount to initiate labor. So my treatments were strong and incorporated supporting points. While most of these women started labor after their intense acupuncture sessions, they were often long, difficult, labors. This was not very satisfying to me and less than ideal for the women I was trying to help.
I started working to find an approach that would minimize the need for any induction, while promoting an easier, more efficient labor. One of the keys was to start seeing a woman earlier. By having a first treatment in the 39th week, I could evaluate their entire body systems and have time to address those that appeared weaker or out of balance. In this time frame it was practical to address the more fundamental issues associated with labor and delivery for each woman. By doing this and gently using the points that can promote labor I can help women get to that point where their bodies are ready to labor effectively. When this is in place, labor starts spontaneously, and the woman is able to trust her body to do what it needs to do.
Another important aspect of acupuncture treatment is that it is a great way to address stress and anxiety. When these are no longer a factor it is easier for the mind to get out of the way and the body to do what it is designed to do. This brings an ease to the later stages of pregnancy and labor.
With this approach I am no longer working to initiate labor; my aim is on getting the woman’s body focused on the job ahead. When she goes into labor it is because she is ready and the labors are effective and shorter. Around 80% of the women I see this way spend 4-8 hours in labor and delivery. This approach also seems very effective with women who have had previous difficult or reluctant labors- they would be included in that 80%.
If the reason for an induction is a concern that high blood pressure is putting the mother at risk, acupuncture can help with this. Since acupuncture is a gentle approach it is helpful to address high blood pressure over a few weeks. I still see women who have waited until the doctor is strongly encouraging induction in a short time frame and are then seeking alternatives. I think acupuncture can help in these situations if there is a need or desire to avoid chemical induction.
Acupuncture is also known to turn breach babies. An Italian study¹ found that while 47% of breach presentations would resolve themselves on their own, that number could be brought to over 75% with acupuncture and moxa. A Chinese study² found that over 80% of breech presentations resolved compared to 49% in the untreated control group. The optimal time for starting acupuncture to address a breach presentation is the 34th week. As the baby gets bigger, past the 36th week, this becomes more difficult. I believe we can also increase the chance of success of a external version with appropriate treatment beforehand.
T. Quinn Evans is a Doctor of Oriental Medicine with a wide ranging practice in Santa Fe. While he enjoys the variety of challenges that present themselves in a general practice, he also focuses on mental/emotional issues, pain management, ob/gyn including pregnancy and menopausal issues and cancer support.
1 Cardini F, Weixin H (1998). “Moxibustion for correction of breech presentation”, Journal of the American Medical Association, 280:1580-1584.
2 Co-operative Research Group on Moxibustion Version (1984). “Clinical observation on the effects of version by moxibustion”. Abstracts from the Second National Symposium on Acupuncture and Moxibustion and Acupuncture Anaesthesia, All-China Society of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, Beijing, p 150.