Having become somewhat of a musculo-skeletal specialist in the last few years, the majority of my clients are naturally those seeking relief from chronic and acute painful conditions relating to musculo-skeletal dysfunction, nerve issues, postural problems and bulging/prolapsed discs. It’s not that I don’t enjoy every minute of these treatments, but it always puts a smile on my face when I’m given the opportunity to use some of the more diverse acupuncture skills I posess.
For example, treating overdue mums to induce labour with acupuncture is something I actually have a very high success rate with but very rarely get to treat. It is also one of the most rewarding experiences to be the last resort, and to help facilitate the natural delivery that most mothers wish for.
The use of acupuncture/moxibustion for treatment of breech presentation is very well documented in the UK and is widely used by midwives as well as acupuncture practitioners. However, when talking about acupuncture to induce labour much fewer people are aware of this and it is rarely mentioned as an option to women by doctors or midwives.
Traditionally there are acupuncture points which are contraindicated during pregnancy, as they have a strong effect in descending Qi (energy) and it is these points we turn to when attempting to stimulate labour contractions. The points I’m reffering to are GB-21 (tops of shoulders), LI-4 (hand) and SP-6 (lower leg) and also UB 31-34 (small of the back). Although these are what you would call ’empirical’ points for induction, in true Chinese Medicine style it is important to look at the personal condition of the client seeking treatment. For example, the reason that labour hasn’t yet started may be that the body is just not ready, through stress levels or commonly lack of sleep so it is important to address these imbalances before just trying to stimulate labour itself. If stress levels are particulary high (as they often are arounf this time) this affects the energy in the liver and the general flow of energy around the body can become a bit ‘stuck’, in this case adding P-6 (on the right wrist) and Liv-3 (left foot) have a strong effect on correcting this. If it’s lack of sleep thats the issue then we need to look at soothing the Heart and Mind using points such as P-6, H-6/7 (wrist), bleeding the tips of the ears and a personal favorite of mine Yintang (forehead). Once the client is a little more balanced, things can start to happen naturally or we can then start to stimulate the ’empirical’ points.
I normally have the treatment in two parts with the client sat up at first and add the aformentioned points but with the addition of Ki-3 (below Sp-6), and then use mild stimulation of those two points with an electro-acupuncture machine, and I also like to get good strong sensations on GB-21. These are kept in place for around 30 minutes, before the client is then seated in a stool with lower back exposed so the UB points can be used (20 minutes). It is normal for the patient to feel an increase in activity of the baby and the last lady I had in actually had a couple of strong contractions during the treatment! Treatment can be carried out daily if urgent, and should be continued up until the start of labour. I don’t know if it a coincidence but practically all women who have recieved this treatment off me have gone on to report successful and uncomplicated births.
Alex Boylan is an acupuncturist and bodyworker who works and teaches in Manchester UK.