Can Acupuncture Really Induce Labor?

Over the years I’ve gotten many calls from frantic women (and sometimes their husbands) who are 40 or 41 weeks pregnant, some who are even scheduled for medical induction in a matter of hours. They all want to know- can Acupuncture help you go into labor in order to avoid induction? The answer is yes… and no. Read on, I’ll explain.

The ideal situation is when a woman comes for regular acupuncture (1-2 times a week) beginning at week 36. I call this “Labor Preparation Acupuncture”. I have a few goals with these sessions:

  1. To help with any pregnancy related discomforts such as low back or hip pain, insomnia or swelling.
  2. To use acupuncture points which get the woman mentally and emotionally relaxed and in a place where she feels ready and optimistic about giving birth.
  3. To stimulate acupoints which aid in relaxing and opening the pelvic region as well as influence cervical ripening (dilation and effacement).

In my experience, women who follow this schedule tend to go into labor more or less on time (and avoid needing a medical induction) and have shorter labors with fewer complications. Acupuncture treatments gently and gradually send your body a message to get ready for labor. Your body is doing this all on its own, but acupuncture helps it happen more seamlessly and helps you to feel more relaxed and ready when the time comes. And YES being mentally relaxed has a HUGE and very real effect on the progress of labor (see this book for more information).

But what about those women who were mere hours away from being induced- can acupuncture help them? I’ve certainly had many cases where I’ve been able to use acupuncture at the last minute to help women go into labor- it’s powerful stuff! However I’ve seen much greater success, by far, with 3-4 weeks of regular sessions leading up to the due date. Rome wasn’t built in a day my friends, and acupuncture is not the same thing as Pitocin. Thankfully!

I’d also like to take this opportunity to encourage all women to get a birth doula as well as a postpartum doula. Read more about doulas and what they do here and here. And, the best way to avoid unnecessary interventions in labor (such as c-sections and episiotomies) or to achieve a VBAC is to choose your hospital based on its maternity procedure statistics. In New York State, they are found on the Department of Health’s website here.

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