Acupressure for inducing labor: What to know
Acupressure draws upon the same concepts as acupuncture, but it uses firm massage and pressure from the hands instead of needles.
There is strong evidence to support the use of acupuncture for certain health conditions, but scientific research on acupressure is still in its infancy and has had mixed results to date.
However, some studies on acupressure have had promising results, and some women say that it is the only thing that helped them go into labor.
Learn more about acupressure for inducing labor in this article.
4 acupressure points to induce labor
Most research on acupressure for inducing labor looks at four specific points on the body. Some studies involve the application of pressure to just one point, while others use two or more points in combination, often simultaneously.
People interested in trying acupressure should consider applying pressure to these particular points on the body:
Located in the webbing between the thumb and index finger, some people believe that this point affects the behavior of the large intestine.
Many traditional sources recommend avoiding the stimulation of LI4 during pregnancy because of concerns that it may induce labor.
While research has not conclusively shown that applying pressure to LI4 can induce labor, some results suggest that massaging this point may help with labor pain.
The SP6 point is on the inside of the leg just above the ankle. Traditional practitioners associate this spot with spleen health.
Research suggests that SP6 acupressure may shorten the length of labor and reduce labor pain.
BL32 is midway between the lower spine and the dimple of the buttocks. Pressing it can produce a tingling numbness.
Research from 2017 found that acupressure here did not induce or shorten labor, but more research is necessary to confirm these results.
People can find BL60 at the top of the Achilles tendon just behind the ankle. Some people use this pressure point to relieve pain during the first stage of labor. A 2017 study found that it failed to help induce labor.
Does acupressure help induce labor?
People have used acupressure for more than 2,000 years. However, Western researchers have only recently become interested in this practice, so research on its effectiveness is limited.
Limited research does not necessarily suggest that acupressure does not work. Instead, it means that there is not enough clinical evidence showing that acupressure works better than a placebo or another remedy.
A 2017 review found no clear evidence that acupressure could induce labor. In comparison with a sham control, acupressure did not induce labor, reduce its length, or improve its outcomes.
Another 2017 review also concluded that acupressure does not induce labor. The results of some studies included in the review suggested that acupressure might shorten labor or reduce pain. However, the authors caution that more research is necessary to establish its effectiveness.
A small 2010 study found that using acupressure on the SP6 point might reduce the length of active labor. The 60 participants who had acupressure for 30 minutes during contractions spent an average of 252.37 minutes in active labor. The average labor of the women who received no acupressure was almost double this length at 441.38 minutes. Acupressure also helped reduce the severity of labor pain.
A 2017 study of 162 women assessed whether acupressure could trigger labor within 96 hours. The participants received either acupressure, sham acupressure, or no special treatment. There were no significant differences between the three groups, suggesting that acupressure neither induces labor within this timeframe nor improves labor outcomes.
A 2014 randomized controlled trial compared women who used acupressure point LI4 during labor with those who did not. Women who had acupressure experienced a statistically significant reduction in pain compared with those who did not. However, acupressure did not shorten the length of labor during this trial.
It is worth noting that even the research that did not find acupressure to be effective has not uncovered any risk to the pregnant woman or the developing baby. Therefore, acupressure is probably safe for most pregnant women to use under the supervision of a doctor or midwife.
If a person wishes to try acupressure, they can massage these four pressure points before labor, as long as the pregnancy has safely progressed to the end of the third trimester.
It is also safe to massage these points during labor to try to reduce pain. However, women with a history of bleeding or pregnancy complications should consult a doctor or midwife before trying acupressure or any other natural remedy.
Research on acupressure to induce labor or improve pregnancy outcomes is relatively new. While a handful of studies suggest that it does not work, other studies hint at its potential effectiveness.
Without more research, it is not possible to know for sure whether acupressure can safely or effectively induce labor.
Women interested in trying acupressure should talk to a healthcare professional first. Most evidence suggests that this method is safe as long as the woman is near 40 weeks of gestation.
However, people should not use acupressure as an alternative to mainstream medicine, especially when there is a compelling medical reason to induce labor.