The days leading up to Labor can be exasperating for women especially when the pregnancy and due date is way past the recommended 40-week mark. The due date is just an estimated guess of when a baby will most likely arrive, and it is common to have women delivering their babies a few weeks before or after the projected date.
When a baby’s delivery date is running late, the mother may be forced to try every trick in the book to convince them otherwise. This is where “off the books” techniques may come in handy such as acupuncture for labor.
A stressed post-term expectant mother may take to eating certain foods to induce labor (say pineapples and castor oil) or simply become more romantic (have sex). In a desperate bid to get the bun out of the oven, some anxious moms- to – even try to get a back massage to induce labor.
In other uncommon scenarios, Some women take the complementary or alternative medicine route by relying on the body’s pressure points to stimulate labor. This includes acupressure points to induce labor. But is there any truth to the theory that pressure points can induce labor, and how do they even work? But before we share what we know about pressure points and Labour, you should read this :
NOTE OF CAUTION: It is imperative that you wait until your pregnancy is full-term before considering any induction option. The recommended full-term pregnancy period is 40 weeks. You should consult your doctor or a seasoned healthcare provider before attempting any induction method.
They may not be able to provide solid information about its efficacy but they can gauge the safety rate for you and your unborn child. Also, Labour inductions are often associated with the risk of cesarian delivery and other urgent medical interventions.
The theory behind the use of pressure points to induce labor is to target specific points in the body which instigates the natural release of the hormones; prostaglandins that soften the cervix and oxytocin that stimulates contractions.let’s take a look at some of these induction methods that involve the use of pressure points and their level of efficacy.
ACUPUNCTURE AND ACUPRESSURE FOR LABOR INDUCTION
In acupuncture, fine needles are inserted into certain points of the body to stimulate the release of oxytocin, which triggers uterine contractions and prepares the body for labor by ripening and dilating the cervix. Practitioners of this field of alternative medicine believe that applying pressure to specific points that run along the body’s meridian system or energy path called qi or chi can elicit a physical response.
They usually recommend that a pregnant woman should undergo the treatment three days after her due date. Acupuncture can also be used to change the position of a breech baby at 32 weeks of pregnancy and beyond. Acupuncture is dubbed a “labor preparation method” as it’s major function is to prepare the mother and her unborn child for the delivery process by influencing the relaxation of the nervous system which works to reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Acupressure on the other hand simply means to firmly massage pressure points to induce labor. Massage to induce labor, just like it’s companion acupuncture, they both work using the same energy cum physical response concept. Acupuncture pressure points are also the same as those of acupressure. The major difference is the method of application.
As opposed to using needles, acupressure uses physical pressure from the fingers to penetrate the localized pressure points. The practice originated from ancient China and it dates back to around 3000l Bc, also known as the stone age.
PRESSURE POINTS HELP INDUCE LABOR
LARGE INTESTINE 4 POINT (L14)
Also known as Hegu (joining valley), L14 is found in the webbed space between the thumb and index finger. The energy pathway of this point is believed to affect the function of the large intestine. It is one of the most used and common acupressure points. It is believed to be effective in inducing labor pain and pregnant women are advised not to stimulate this point when their due date is still farther down the calendar. Research indicates that it may also be a good pressure point for labor pain, due to its pain-relieving functions.
SPLEEN 6 POINT (SP6)
The SP6 is another common pressure point used to stimulate labor and reduce the accompanying pains. It is also named the sanyinjiao or three yin intersection point. Acupuncture practitioners associate this pressure point with spleen health. It is located in the lower calf region, just above the ankle.
BLADDER 32 POINT (Bl32)
The Bl32 acupuncture point is located between the middle of the lumbar spine and the dimple of the buttocks, hence it is called ciliao which is translated as the second crevice. It is believed to help trigger uterine contractions and massaging this point can help alleviate some gynecological problems. However, a 2017 study debunked these claims where it reported that stimulating this point did not induce nor shorten labor.
PERICARDIUM 8 POINT (PC8)
The pericardium 8 points, also called the labor palace or laogang is touted to be effective for labor induction. It can be found in the center of the palm when a fist is made, at the point where the middle finger touches the palm(between the second and third metacarpals) . There is no scientific evidence to back up it’s effectiveness in inducing labor.
BLADDER 60 POINT (BL60)
The bl60 acupuncture point also called the Kunlun point is found a few inches below the SP6 Point. It is located between the ankle bone and the Achilles tendon. It is said to help Jump-start labor and change a baby’s position.
BLADDER 67 POINT (BL67)
This is also referred to as the reaching point or zhiyin. It is also believed to help trigger uterine contractions and can be used to turn babies stuck in unhealthy positions. One study found that it can help suppress labor pain during the initial stage of labor.
How Fast does Acupressure work to Induce Labor?
The stimulation of pressure points to induce labor is said to work differently for every woman. Some women are ready to push after one treatment while some others require consecutive treatments. There is scientific evidence to suggest that acupressure cannot induce labor within 24 hours. The fact is, there is no way to know for certain how long it will take to work or if it will even work at all. Nonetheless, it can be a good way to relax and relieve some pain.
DO THEY REALLY WORK? ACUPUNCTURE AND ACUPUNCTURE TO INDUCE LABOR REVIEWS
Scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of acupressure to reduce labor and acupuncture is limited. The currently available scientific reviews are conflicted. One study found that acupressure can shorten labor time, especially during the first stage.
A 2017 study contradicted this by concluding that there is no confirmed evidence to support the claim that acupressure can induce or shorten labor. Another 2017 scientific review of different studies also reached the conclusion that acupressure does not jump-start labor, but it could possibly help shorten labor and relief associated pains.
A review published in the Journal of Midwifery and Women’s health stated that acupuncture could help soften the cervix for labor, but it does little to reduce the pain or shorten the duration. The authors recommended more research and suggested that future research should be individual specific with regard to pressure points as opposed to using the generally accepted pressure points for every woman.
Researchers in a 2013 review explored 14 randomized control trials of the use of acupuncture to induce labour, the studies reviewed involved more than 2200 participants.
The researchers found that women who had acupuncture as well as foot massage to induce labor had a pronounced cervical ripening compared to those who had no acupuncture or who had sham acupuncture (where the practitioner pretends to use needles for acupuncture but doesn’t do so). They also agreed that more research needs to be carried out to fully accredit acupuncture.
When it comes to the question of safety, there is no concrete evidence to prove that acupuncture has negative implications on the health of the mother and child. A 2015 study carried out by Clarkson and colleagues, concluded that most negative effects of acupuncture do not directly translate to pregnancy complications such as Preterm births and miscarriages or any other complications.
The side effects such as low blood pressure, drowsiness, fainting, and discomfort are what any person (pregnant or not) will experience following the procedure, and the practitioners are often able to properly manage these effects.
REFLEXOLOGY FOR LABOR INDUCTION
Reflexology is another pressure point for labor induction method that focuses on the feet. In reflexology, the pressure is applied to different parts of the feet to stimulate different parts of the body using the hands or fingers. The different parts of the feet are said to represent organs like the heart, kidneys, and lungs.
For labor induction purposes, the reflexologist will apply pressure to the big toes of the pregnant woman in order to stimulate the pituitary gland which activates hormones that trigger labor contractions. A reflexology session lasts between 30 minutes to an hour, with intermittent breaks aimed at calming the expectant mother.
Experts in this field warn pregnant women with a history of pregnancy-induced hypertension (pre-eclampsia), miscarriage, or other obstetric complications, not to undergo the procedure. It is also not recommended for people with a foot injury, deep vein thrombosis, or any other blood-clotting problems.
HOW EFFECTIVE IS REFLEXOLOGY TO INDUCE LABOR?
There is very limited research work to prove the efficacy or the ineffectiveness of professional foot rubbing for labor induction. There are anecdotal reports of the amazing pain-relieving effects of reflexology which is said to kick in fully at around 15 minutes into labor.
A review that looked at a compilation of previous reflexology reports, found that pregnant women who employed reflexology during labor had reduced labor pains and were more comfortable than those who didn’t.
The claim that reflexology can quicken labor is mostly anecdotal and self-reported. It is believed that stimulating the pituitary gland by rubbing the foot can activate the release of oxytocin hormone which helps to initiate labor.
A 2017 pilot study reported that compared to women who had usual self-care, antenatal reflexology helped shorten labor duration for women who have undergone childbirth once and had low back and pelvic girdle pain during pregnancy. The researchers also stated that the procedure is practically safe, enjoyable, and may shorten labor.
REFLEXOLOGY POINTS FOR LABOUR INDUCTION
Reflexology points to induce labor include the pituitary gland, the adrenal glands, and the spleen.
- To stimulate the pituitary gland, the reflexologist will apply pressure to the middle of the toes for about 2-3 minutes. He or she will alternate between the right and left toe. This is expected to trigger uterine contractions which may begin at the point of treatment or at a later time.
- For the spleen point, the reflexologist will apply pressure to the inside of the ankles using three or four fingers to stimulate uterine contractions.
- To stimulate the adrenal glands which function to help the mum-to-be cope with the stress of labor, the reflexologist will use the thumb to apply firm pressure to the point above the line where the big toe meets the foot halfway.
Does Acupuncture Have The Potential to Ease Labor pain?
The fact remains that there is very limited scientific research to show the workings and effectiveness of using pressure points to induce labor. Some of the available studies suggest that it doesn’t work, while a few believe it has the potential to initiate labor and provide some relief from labor pains.
Its safety is largely agreed upon as most of the studies did not associate any risk or potential harm with its use. Going by this, it can be said that it is safe to use under the supervision of your healthcare provider.
The general consensus remains that more research needs to be done in order to uncover the potential benefits and risks associated with the practice.