In Chinese medicine, acupuncture has been used for thousands of years as a natural and safe way to help a woman prepare for or promote labor as her birthing time gets close or past due. Naturally, labor begins when the baby releases a small amount of the oxytocin hormone signaling the mother’s body to initiate labor. The most common Western method of labor induction uses pitocin, a synthetic drug used to mimic oxytocin to jump-start labor, but in contrast to the latter, pitocin will start contractions whether the mother’s body is ready or not. Because the mother’s body is not always ready, labor fails to progress 40-50% of the time, starting a chain of events that can lead to a C-section. The use of synthetic pitocin also has other serious risks, including fetal distress and cardiac arrhythmia. In addition, most women find that pitocin causes very intense and painful labor.
By contrast, acupuncture promotes labor by increasing blood circulation to the uterus, relaxing the pelvic floor muscles, lowering the baby and assisting in softening and ripening the cervix. This starts a hormonal process that stimulates the mother’s body and helps create a comfortable and conducive environment to encourage the baby to release oxytocin, resulting in a much more gentle and natural process than Western induction. Since the effects of promotion of labor with acupuncture are gradual, rather than instantaneous, the number of treatments needed is determined by how close to labor the mother’s body is. Some women only need one or two treatments, while others may need several treatments for real labor to start.
Acupuncture can also aid in calming anxiety and relieving pain to ensure a more comfortable birth. While a post-term baby is the most common reason to seek acupuncture for labor promotion, it is also sought in cases of a prematurely broken membrane or a mother or baby with health problems. In the absence of complications, acupuncture treatments for promotion of labor are typically administered after week 39 on.
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