Whether you are hoping for an unmedicated birth or want an epidural, it is best to plan how you will manage labor pain. Having a good support team and pain management strategies can help you get through each contraction and one step closer to meeting your baby. One pain management strategy is acupressure during labor. Acupressure may be used to help labor progress and possibly even naturally induce labor. Here we will look at what acupressure is, how it works, and how to use it in labor.1
Acupressure falls under the umbrella of traditional Chinese medicine, which aims to manipulate or adjust a person’s mind and body to find balance. Traditional Chinese medicine is believed to help with pain, balance issues, nausea, anxiety, and more.2,3
Acupressure is like localized massage — it applies stimulation to specific spots on the body using hands, fingers, or thumbs. Moderate pressure and sometimes a rubbing motion is applied at these points. Each acupressure point is identified and linked to channels and organs within the body.4
Applying acupressure to specific points on the body may stimulate natural oxytocin release and decrease stress hormones. Oxytocin may help to induce or augment labor, and reduced stress might lessen your resistance or inhibition to labor.5
Studies vary on whether acupressure is successful in helping to get labor started, but it may help prepare the cervix for when labor does begin. However, another study concluded that acupressure does not ripen the cervix or induce labor.6,7
Multiple studies have shown that acupressure, compared with either no intervention or only touch, can shorten the full duration of labor. Particularly, it can shorten the pushing phase of labor.7,8,9,10
Perhaps acupressure shortens labor because it helps with pain relief, allowing the body to relax and the cervix to dilate more quickly. Many studies looking at different acupressure points on the body have demonstrated that acupressure reduces labor pain when compared to no intervention or touch alone.7,8,10
Another study confirmed that acupressure reduces labor pain but is even more effective when combined with massage.11
There is little risk in trying acupressure to induce labor at term, shorten labor, or reduce labor pain. The pressure should not be hard enough to cause pain at the site. Pressing too hard may cause bruising or, in severe cases, internal bleeding.12
Since certain acupressure points may induce labor, those points should be avoided before your pregnancy has reached full term to avoid the risk of preterm labor.
Accessing certain acupressure points may require you to remain in a particular position. This can be uncomfortable during labor. For example, one study required laboring mothers to rest on their backs with their legs straight during contractions while a practitioner applied acupressure. Some laboring women find it difficult to lie on their backs during contractions.5
Trying acupressure during labor does little harm; you can stop at any time. Even if acupressure does not work to relieve pain or shorten your labor, it could at least be worth a try!
So, you have done the research and might want to try acupressure during labor. Here’s what to do.
Recruit your partner, a doula, or your labor and delivery nurse to help you. You may be able to perform acupressure to yourself if you are comfortable enough and capable, and the points are within reach. However, this may not be easy if you are in active labor, so preparing with a team member is good.
2. Identify and Mark Your Points
Identify the pressure points on your own body. You can mark them so a helper knows where to press them. You identify acupressure points using your own body as reference measurements. Some points to target during labor include:13
- SP6, which lies three thumb widths above the inner ankle5
- SP9, found in the depression in the lower inner knee5
- LI4, in the crevice between your thumb and index finger10,14
- BL32, found just inside the dimples on either side just below the base of your spine14
- BL60, located between the outer ankle and the Achilles tendon5
- BL67, which is found just outside the outside of the pinky toe5
- GB21, where your neck meets your shoulders5
Use the soft pad of your thumbs during each labor contraction to apply moderate pressure. You can hold constant pressure or gently massage that specific point. Apply acupressure during labor to both matching points on each side simultaneously. Hold pressure for the duration of the contraction and then gradually release. You can rotate through the different acupressure points during each contraction to see which ones provide you the most help and relief.
If you are looking for natural and holistic ways to help you progress through labor and get through the pain, having different strategies in place can help. When you hit a wall during labor, it is nice to have a new coping mechanism to try. Because acupressure is low-risk and has been proven effective at decreasing pain and speeding up labor, it might be an excellent technique before turning to labor induction, augmentation, or an epidural.