Using Chinese Medicine to prepare for childbirth

Using Chinese Medicine to prepare for birth usually involves two aspects.

The primary approach is to use a standard combination of acupuncture points.  The primary aim of treatment is to gently and progressively move the mother’s energy and blood circulation into her lower abdomen as the birth approaches.

Additional points are added to help soften and relax the ligaments and tendons and assist the baby to engage, laying the foundation for birth.

Secondary or extra acupuncture points are include to address symptoms if they manifest in the later stages of pregnancy such as haemorrhoids, oedema of the hands and feet, fatigue, heartburn, anxiety, sleep difficulty, tiredness, and back pain.

Generally speaking the number of acupuncture points needled is kept to a minimum and gentle needling techniques are used so the natural process of childbirth is encouraged, not overwhelmed or interfered with.

How effective is pre-birth acupuncture?

There have been a number of random controlled trials (RCT) studying the effect of pre-birth acupuncture.  These trials, however, tend to be contradictory, littered with design flaws, test limited parameters (mostly length of labour) and fail to recognise the holistic and individual nature of TCM.

The study that most accurately reflects our own clinical experience is an observational study conducted by New Zealand midwives who practice acupuncture.

Betts & Lennox (2006) [1] published the findings of a study of 169 women receiving pre-birth acupuncture.  The experience of these women were compared to local population rates using the parameters of gestation at onset of labour, incidence of medical induction, length of labour, the use of analgesia and the type of delivery.

In the acupuncture group, there was a 35% reduction in the number of medical inductions (primigravida 43% reduction) and a 31% reduction in the epidural rate.

When comparing midwifery-led care only, there was a 32% reduction in emergency caesarean delivery and a 9% increase in normal vaginal birth.

While not an RCT, the outcome of this study clearly suggests that pre-birth acupuncture has promising therapeutic effect in assisting women to achieve natural, vaginal birth and reduce the likelihood of medical intervention.
It also strongly suggests the need for further random controlled trials in the area.

[1] Betts D, Lennox S. Acupuncture for pre-birth treatment: An observational study of its use in midwifery practice. Medical acupuncture 2006 May; 17(3):17-20