I'm not really one to buy into all kinds of alternative medicines, but I'll be honest with you — after working as a nurse, I've learned not to say no to anything. There are all kinds of things about the human body that we know nothing about, especially when it comes to women's bodies and the mystery of pregnancy and childbirth.
So when I first heard about using acupuncture during labor, I kept an open mind. Sure, my initial thought was, how on earth could anyone stay still enough for someone to stick needles in them during labor, but then again, everyone handles labor completely differently. How acupuncture works isn't completely understood, but it's thought to vary from "unblocking" the body's energy flow to simply boosting natural painkillers and blood flow in the body.
During labor, acupuncture can be used for pain relief, as a calming technique (which again will lessen pain) and to keep labor contractions going during a stalled labor. Some acupuncture practices support the procedure not only as a way to keep women relaxed, but also to shorten labor.
A 2004 review of the literature involving acupuncture as a pain relief method during labor concluded that the evidence was "promising," but that future research is still needed. Like all studies, it can be hard to tell if the study participants experienced pain relief as a result of expecting to get relief or from the acupuncture itself. A newer review in 2009 also found that, "acupuncture during labor and delivery is well tolerated by patients and medical staff. It should be further evaluated for its promise in potentially reducing the incidence of cesarean section."
You can even use acupuncture on yourself during labor, according to some proponents. "I used acupressure to start my labor, restart my stalling labor in the hospital and as pain relief for my natural childbirth," said licensed acupuncturist Ali Damron. She recommends a pressure point in the foot as "useful during the transition phase of labor" to help pull energy downwards in the body. "During each contraction I asked my husband to pinch the pressure point on my right hand, and it really helped distract me from the pain and concentrate on relaxing," wrote one mother who used acupuncture during her pregnancy and in early labor.
It's definitely not mainstream, but some U.S. hospitals now offer acupuncture for women during labor and it has shown promise for pain relief after C-sections and postpartum as well. If you think that you may want to try acupuncture during your labor, you will most likely need to prep a plan far in advance and either find a licensed acupuncturist to bring with you during labor or choose a facility that offers the service for laboring women.
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