Pregnancy and Birth

The changes of pregnancy can bring a variety of problems at a time when medication options are limited and women often wish to avoid taking medication if possible. Traditional acupuncture can be used safely in pregnancy and is becoming more used in ante-natal care. There are maternity acupuncture clinics at four NHS hospitals: The Whittington in London, West Middlesex, Warwick and Gilbert Bain in Shetland.

Oriental medicine has a deep and detailed understanding of the physical changes of pregnancy and why they can cause imbalances which can give rise to common and less common conditions seen in pregnancy. There is now a wealth of clinical experience in treating problems of pregnancy with acupuncture and the use of acupuncture for conditions often considered part of a normal pregnancy, such as morning sickness, headaches, tiredness, anxiety and depression, back pain, constipation and symphisis pubis pain, can not only improve a woman's quality of life but can also prevent them from having to seek medical treatment or use painkillers.

Acupuncture treatment follows the Oriental Medical approach of treating both the root and manifestation of a problem. There are certain acupuncture points that are not used in pregnancy and fewer needles are used. Women often find that their baby seems to move in response to the treatment!


Moxibustion for Breech Presentation

An technique called moxibustion that is an integral part of traditional acupuncture has been used for centuries to turn breech babies. Moxibustion is the burning of the herb artemisia vulgaris / artemisia argyii, called moxa.  The word 'moxa' is derived from the Japanese word mogusa or mo kusa, meaning, 'burning herb'. For turning breech babies moxa is used in a stick form and is held near a point on the little toe.

Moxibustion has been shown to reduce the need for cephalic version / ECV  – manual turning of the baby’s position (see footnote 1) – and is offered in some NHS maternity acupuncture clinics. Treatment is a single session at which you receive moxibustion and instructions and moxa sticks to continue at home over the next 10 days. I also offer acupuncture to support the moxa treatment at this appointment should you wish.


Pre-birth Acupuncture

A course of weekly acupuncture treatments from 36 or 37 weeks until birth can help your body prepare for birth. These treatments use particular combinations of acupuncture points While there is not a large body of research available, the small studies that have been conducted have shown very positive results. For details of these please see below:


Pre-birth acupuncture reduces mean labour time - Kubista E., Kucera H., Geburtshilfe Perinatol 1974;178 224-9

The first study on the use of acupuncture to prepare women for labour, in 1976, concluded that acupuncture was successful in reducing the mean labour time of the women treated.

Expectant mothers received acupuncture once a week from 37 weeks gestation. The time between cervical dilation of 3-4 cm and delivery was 19% lower in the acupuncture group (4 hours and 57 minutes compared to 5 hours and 54 minutes in the control group).

The mean (average) time of labour, taken from the onset of regular contractions (every 10-15 minutes) until delivery. This was 26% shorter with pre-birth acupuncture, the acupuncture group having a mean average labour time of 6 hours and 36 minutes, compared to 8 hours and 2 minutes in the control group.


Pre-birth acupuncture can shorten the first stage of labour - Zeisler et al. 1998 Gynecological and Obstetric Investigation 1998;46(1):22-5

A 1998 a retrospective study of spontaneous vaginal deliveries found the first stage of labour (from 3cm cervical dilation to full dilation) was 38% shorter in women who received weekly acupuncture from 36 weeks. The mean length of the first stage of labour was 321 minutes in the control group and 196 minutes in the acupuncture group.


Pre-birth acupuncture reduces likelihood of medical intervention during labourBetts, D., Lennox, S., Medical Acupuncture 2006;17(3) 16-19.

An observational study in 2004 in New Zealand compared the incidence of medical interventions during labour in 169 women who received an average of 5 pre-birth acupuncture treatments from 36 weeks gestation, with current maternity statistics in the same region.

There was an overall 35% reduction in the number of inductions (for women who were having their first baby, there was a reduction of 43%) a 31% reduction in the epidural rate, a 32% reduction in emergency caesarean sections, and a 9% increase in normal vaginal births, in the women who received pre-birth acupuncture.


Encouraging Labour

Acupuncture has been shown to support cervical ripening and shorten the time between the expected and actual delivery dates (see footnote 2). Acupuncture can be given to encourage labour at term - in one or two treatment sessions. Expectant mothers often choose acupuncture to try to avoid the need for a medical induction.

I also provide you with instructions on acupressure that you and your birthing partner can continue to use after your treatment to encourage labour.


1. Cardini F, Weixin H (1998) Moxibustion for correction of breech presentation; Journal of the American Medical Association 280:1580-1584

2. Rabl M, Ahner R, Bitschnau M, Zeiseler H, Husslein P (2001) Acupuncture for cervical ripening and induction of labour at term – a randomised controlled trial Wien Klin Wichenschr: 113 (23-24): 942-6