Fertility

Acupressure For Labor: Is It Safe & Effective?

Updated on 20 July 2021 • 9 minute read
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Overview

Did you know that acupressure may be a safe and effective way to reduce pain intensity and the duration of labor? (1)

Acupressure is similar to the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practice called acupuncture but doesn’t use needles. Instead, strategic points in the body are targeted using firm pressure.

In this article, you’ll learn the acupressure points used for labor. Some of these points may help induce labor naturally, while others may reduce labor pains.

 

Acupressure & Labor

Due dates are just estimates of when your baby might arrive. A baby’s delivery usually happens anytime from the 38th week of gestation. But it’s still normal for a child to be delivered on week 42.

Yet a lot of pregnant women get anxious each day that passes after their due date.

Studies show that alternative medicine may help induce labor and might also help with pain management. (1)(2)(3)

If you’re planning on using natural remedies instead of getting an epidural, these are the acupressure points for labor:

 

SP6 (Spleen 6 Point) – Sanyinjiao

  • It’s known as the three yin intersection.
  • It may induce labor. (4)
  • It may help dilate the cervix more efficiently. (4)
  • When pressed, it may also help strengthen the contractions. (4)
  • It may be ideal for first-time moms who are experiencing difficulties in dilation. (4)
  • It may help reduce the length of labor, pain severity, and cesarean section rates. (3)
  • It may also help ease labor pain. (5)(6)

 

(Source: https://acupuncture.rhizome.net.nz/acupressure/)

 

How To Find

  • SP6 can be found above the ankle, at the backside of the lower calf (shinbone). (4)
  • Locate the inner ankle bone.
  • Measure around four finger-widths to the shinbone to find SP6. (4)

 

What To Do

  • Use your index finger to press this point for a few seconds.
  • Take a 1-minute break, then repeat.
  • Discontinue once labor is established. (4)

 

BL60 (Bladder 60 Point) – Kunlun

  • It’s named after a mountain range in Asia called Kunlun.
  • This acupressure point is located a few inches below the SP6. (4)
  • It may promote labor by inducing uterine contractions. (4)
  • It may also help ease labor pains. (6)
  • It may help reduce obstruction and promote the baby’s descent during the last stage of labor. (4)

 

(Source: https://acupuncture.rhizome.net.nz/acupressure/)

 

How To Find

  • BL60 is located on your foot, at the depression between your Achilles tendon and the ankle. (4)

 

What To Do

  • Apply light pressure to the spot using your thumb.
  • Press and massage the point for a few minutes.

 

PC8 (Pericardium 8 Point) – Laogong

  • Its name, Laogong, means “labor palace.”
  • It may help induce labor. (4)
  • It may also help reduce labor pains. (4)

 

(Source: https://acupuncture.rhizome.net.nz/acupressure/)

 

How To Find

  • PC8 is located at the center of your palm. (4)

 

What To Do

  • Use the thumb of your other hand to press this point lightly.
  • Massage gently for a few seconds.
  • You can also use a small comb, with the teeth touching the middle of your palm. You can grip the comb tightly during contractions. The teeth will press this point. (4)

 

BL67 (Bladder 67 Point) – Zhi Yin

  • Its name, Zhi Yin, means “reaching yin,”
  • This point may help stimulate labor contractions. (4)
  • It may also help in turning your baby to the correct birthing position. (4)
  • It may also help ease labor pains. (7)

 

(Source: https://acupuncture.rhizome.net.nz/acupressure/)

 

How To Find

  • BL67 is located at the outer side of your pinky toe, close to the edge of your nail. (4)

 

What To Do

  • Using your index finger and thumb, apply firm pressure on this point, just like you’re pinching your toe. (4)
  • Repeat after a few minutes.

 

LI4 (Large Intestine 4 Point) – Hoku or Hegu

  • Its name, Hegu, means “joining valley.”
  • It’s the most common acupressure point. (4)
  • It may help induce labor. (4)
  • Studies on the effects of LI4 showed that this acupressure point may be effective in easing labor pains. (1)(8)
  • Some pregnant women didn’t find a difference in pain perception but felt more comfortable when this point was pressed. (1)(8)
  • This acupuncture point doesn’t appear to shorten the first stage of labor, but it may be used for pain relief. (7)
  • It may also help strengthen your immune system.
  • Once the cervix is fully open, pressing this point may help encourage the baby’s descent through the birth canal. (4)

 

(Source: https://acupuncture.rhizome.net.nz/acupressure/)

 

How To Find

  • LI4 is located deep between the webbing of your pointer finger and thumb.

 

What To Do

  • Use your thumb to apply gentle pressure on the spot for one minute.
  • Take a one-minute break before doing it again.

 

BL32 (Bladder 32 Point) – Ciliao

  • Its name, Ciliao, means “second crevice.”
  • It may help trigger uterine contractions. (4)
  • It may also provide an anesthetizing effect to help you feel better as the baby descends during labor. (4)(6)(9)
  • It may also help relieve other issues (dysmenorrhea, polyps, and pelvic inflammatory disease). (4)(8)

 

(Source: https://acupuncture.rhizome.net.nz/acupressure/)

 

How To Find

  • It’s located between the dimple above your buttocks and the lower spine. (4)
  • You can feel a small depression if you press on this spot. 

 

What To Do

  • Your support person or doula should do this while you’re leaning forward.
  • Ask them to press firmly with a thumb or index finger on both sides.
  • As labor progresses, they should slowly move their fingers until they’re around one thumb-width from the side of your spine. (4)
  • The slow movement should continue until their knuckles meet at the middle of your buttocks. (4)
  • Repeat for a few minutes.

 

GB21 (Gallbladder 21) – Jian Jing

  • It may promote the release of oxytocin (a hormone that stimulates uterine contractions). (10)(4)

 

(Source: https://acupuncture.rhizome.net.nz/acupressure/)

 

How To Find

  • Draw an imaginary line from the prominent bone at the back of your neck to your shoulder joint. (4)
  • You’ll find GB21 at the middle of this line. (4)

 

What To Do

  • While you can press this point during labor, it’s a better idea to let your support person do it for you.
  • This point should be pressed with a thumb at the beginning of the contractions. (4)
  • Continue applying gentle pressure as the contractions intensify. (4)

 

KID1 (Kidney 1) – Yongquan

  • It may help you stay calm during labor. (4)
  • It may be used anytime during labor. (4)
  • It may be more effective to use this during the transition (the final phase of the first stage of labor when the cervix fully opens and gets ready for the baby’s descent). (4)
  • It may also be useful when you’re feeling nauseated. (4)

 

(Source: https://acupuncture.rhizome.net.nz/acupressure/)

 

How To Find

  • This spot is the depression that forms when your toes are pulled towards your sole.

 

What To Do

  • Let your support person use their knuckles to apply pressure on this spot.
  • The pressure should go inwards and up towards the big toe. (4)

 

Ear Shen Men

  • It may help relieve pain during labor. (11)
  • It may also be used to help you relax. (11)
  • It may also reduce the rate of episiotomy (procedure of cutting your perineum to make the vaginal opening bigger for childbirth). (11)

 

(Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3687596/)

 

How To Find

  • It’s located in the upper ear.
  • Find the triangular indentation near the top of your ear.
  • Ear Shen Men is located inside the upper edge of the triangle tip.

 

What To Do

  • Press this point for a few minutes.

 

PC6 (Pericardium 6) – Nei Guan 

  • It may help alleviate symptoms of nausea and vomiting. (12)(13)
  • It may also help you feel better if you’re lightheaded due to the pain. (12)(13)

 

(Source: https://exploreim.ucla.edu/self-care/acupressure-point-p6/)

 

How To Find

  • This spot is located approximately three finger-widths away from the line between your wrist and your hand. (4)

 

What To Do

  • Press this point if you’re feeling lightheaded or nauseous.
  • Continue pressing until you feel better.
  • Your support person can also help by pressing these spots on your wrists at the same time.

 

Guide To Using Acupressure During Labor

What’s Acupressure?

Acupressure is the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practice of using pressure on certain points of the body. 

It may help prevent or relieve illness and pain, depending on which acupressure point is pressed.

The points for acupressure are the same as the acupuncture points. But acupuncture uses needles, while acupressure uses direct firm pressure on the points. (14)

These points are believed to control a certain body part or organ. 

The points are linked together along the body’s meridians, a series of channels that carry qi energy.

Pressure can be applied using:

  • Thumbs
  • Index fingers
  • Several fingers
  • Hands
  • Elbows
  • Other devices

 

How To Do Acupressure Safely

  • Locate the acupressure points.
  • Apply gentle yet firm pressure on the spot. Hold for one to three minutes.
  • Don’t press longer than three minutes at a time.
  • Don’t press near the throat.
  • Avoid pressing varicose veins, cuts, or wounds.
  • If the point becomes tender or feels too painful to touch, don’t press it again. Find other acupressure points to use.
  • It’s not uncommon to use different pressure point combinations through labor.

 

What’s The Effect Of Acupressure In Labor?

If properly applied during labor, acupressure may have the following effects: (4)

  • Promote production of endorphins (known as the body’s “feel-good” chemicals)
  • Block the pain receptors to the brain
  • Dilate the cervix
  • Increase blood flow to the uterus
  • Stimulate uterine contractions
  • Increase the efficiency of contractions
  • Assist your baby turn for the most optimal birth position
  • Provide a calming effect during labor

 

You might not need medical induction if acupressure techniques can cause cervical dilation.

 

When To Use Acupressure During Labor

You may begin using acupressure during the first stage of labor for pain relief. It may be an effective alternative to an epidural. (1)

In a 2014 study, pregnant women who received acupressure at LI4 for 30 minutes during uterine contractions had better pain scores than the women who only received a gentle massage or touch on that spot.

 

How Long Does It Take For Acupressure To Work?

Acupressure may not work as fast as you want to for managing an illness or inducing labor. But it may work quickly in easing pain during labor.

Before labor, your partner or support person can learn the correct acupoints (acupressure points) and how to press them correctly.

 

Acupressure Before Medical Induction

Your health care provider or midwife might recommend a medically induced labor for you, depending on the circumstances.

You can start acupressure three days before your labor induction schedule. (4)

Doing acupressure may help labor start spontaneously. Your cervix might respond to the stimulation and begin contractions.

But if that doesn’t work, acupressure may still increase your chances of labor progression with minimal medical interventions.

 

Acupressure For Problems During Labor

Things don’t always go according to what’s written on your birth plan. The length of labor might not be the same as your expectations.

But acupressure may help you stick to your planned mode of delivery and ease labor pains.

 

Posterior Position

The optimal birth position is when your baby’s head is positioned facing down. The back of your baby’s head should be ready to enter the birth canal.

Babies don’t always move to this position. Some stay in breech position (your baby’s buttocks or feet are positioned to go out first).

The following acupressure points may help your baby move to the correct position: (4)

Combination of BL60 and SP6

  • To use in combination, press BL60 for two minutes. 
  • Then, apply pressure on SP6 for another two minutes
  • For better results, these points should be pressed on both legs at the same time.

 

BL67

  • Some doulas or midwives press BL67 using tiny needles used by acupuncturists for ear acupuncture
  • The needle may be left in place during labor.
  • If these needles aren’t available, the spot can also be stimulated using a ballpen tip or a fingernail.

 

Failure To Progress

The first stage of labor can begin even before your water breaks. 

This “water” is actually the amniotic fluid that surrounds your baby inside your womb. It breaks in preparation for labor.

But even after the water breaks, labor doesn’t always progress automatically. If labor fails to progress, it can be dangerous to you and your baby.

Inform your doctor or midwife immediately if you’re still at home when your water breaks. Note the color of your watery discharge.

Once your water breaks, have your support person press the following acupressure or acupuncture points:

  • LI4
  • SP6
  • BL32

 

These may also be used in combination. You can press LI4 at the middle of your thumb and index finger while your support person presses the other acupressure points.

You can also use these combinations for the first stage of labor: (4)

SP6 and LI4

  • Apply pressure on LI4 while pressing SP6 on the opposite side.
  • Press for several minutes.
  • Change positions to the LI4 and SP6 of the other sides.

 

SP6 and BL32

  • Choose a comfortable position that allows access to your lower back.
  • Have your support person press SP6.
  • Another person, such as your doula, presses BL32 at the same time.
  • For best results, they should do this for 10 minutes.
  • Rest for a few minutes. Repeat.
  • If there’s only one person to support you, this person can start pressing SP6, then move to BL32.

 

You can use this combination if the second stage of labor fails to progress:

 

GB21 and LI4

  • Have your support person press GB21 while another person (or you) presses LI4.
  • Apply pressure for five to 10 minutes.

 

Acupressure & Cesarean Section

Clinical trial researchers discovered that acupressure may be more effective in reducing c-section rates than acupuncture. (15)

 

Acupressure After Delivery

After-Delivery Pains

  • Uterine contractions continue for several days after labor because the uterus moves back into its original position.
  • Acupressure on SP6 may help significantly reduce these after-delivery pains. (4)

 

Breastfeeding

  • You might notice that postpartum uterine contractions are strongest when you’re breastfeeding, so SP6 is also useful. (4)
  • Acupressure on GB21 may help promote breast milk letdown. (4)
  • GB21 may also help you relax. (4)

 

Acupressure Safety & Risks

  • Let your OB/GYN know that you are going to use acupressure during labor.
  • Pregnant women with a history of bleeding or pregnancy complications should only use acupressure with medical supervision.
  • Don’t start acupressure until pregnancy reaches the end of the third trimester (starting the 38th-week mark). Premature labor carries risks for you and your baby.

 

Other Complementary Therapies For Labor

  • Breathing techniques
  • Prenatal yoga postures & meditation
  • Acupuncture
  • Hypnosis
  • Massage therapy
  • Touch therapy
  • Aromatherapy & essential oils
  • Music therapy
  • Muscle relaxation

 

 

 

REFERENCES

(1) Dabiri, F., & Shahi, A. (2014). The Effect of LI4 Acupressure on Labor Pain Intensity and Duration of Labor: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Oman Medical Journal, 29(6), 425–429. https://doi.org/10.5001/omj.2014.113. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4289495/

(2) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25802545/

(3) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19757334/

(4) Betts, Debra. Acupuncture and Acupressure for Pregnancy and Childbirth. CHHHS Midwifery learning packages: Acupressure. https://www.selkirkmedicalgroup.ca/wp-content/uploads/acupressure.pdf

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5881236/

(6) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31733754/

(7) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14685931/

(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4325405/

(9) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27912944/

(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6953318/

(11) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6168759/

(12) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20694778/

(13) https://exploreim.ucla.edu/self-care/acupressure-point-p6/

(14) Smith CA, Armour M, Dahlen HG. Acupuncture or acupressure for induction of labour. Systematic Review. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017 Oct 17;10(10):CD002962. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD002962.pub4. PMID: 29036756; PMCID: PMC6953318. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29036756/

(15) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7007200/

 

 

 

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