Cervical ripening occurs when the cervix softens and becomes more distensible which coaxes the baby into the best possible position for birth. Multiple studies have shown the benefits of acupuncture in preparing the body for birth, and assisting the cervix to ripen.
In 1974, a study was published in The American Journal of Acupuncture. It concluded that acupuncture as a form of birth preparation helped to reduce the average time a woman spends in labour.
Further, in 1998, Zeizler etal. found that acupuncture treatments from 36 weeks onwards had a positive effect on shortening the first stage of labour, which is defined from 3cm cervical dilation to complete dilation of 10cm. The acupuncture group had an average duration of 196 minutes compared to the control group of 321 minutes.
A randomized controlled trial in 2001 by Rabl and team involved 45 women and studied the effect of acupuncture on cervical ripening in the hope of reducing inductions. The authors concluded that acupuncture helped to ripen the cervix and it shortened the time between the due date and the actual delivery date, thereby decreasing the need for a medical induction.
Then in 2006 an observational study was published in the Medical Acupuncture Journal. It involved fourteen midwives who recorded their acupuncture treatments with 169 women over a four-month period. They recorded how many weeks gestation the women were at the time of labour, whether or not they received a medical induction, the length of labour, the type of pain relief used and ultimately what type of delivery they had.
When they compared their results to other women in the same region, they found: There was a 35% reduction in the number of inductions for women overall, for first-time pregnant women this was reduced by 43%. There was a 31% reduction in epidural rate and when compared to the local midwifery practice. There was a 32% reduction in caesarean sections and a 9% increase in normal vaginal births. The study concluded that it looked very promising for women to receive acupuncture prior to their birth.
As a result of these studies, pregnant women are encouraged to have weekly acupuncture treatments in the four weeks prior to birth (weeks 36-40). Acupuncture treats for any imbalances in the organ systems according to Chinese medicine, as well as helps the baby to engage if need be, ripen the cervix, relax muscles and tendons and calm the mind.
— Dr. Meghan van Drimmelen, ND | Naturopath Victoria BC
*Originally published on Dr. Meghan's Blog
Kubista E & Kucera H. Geburtshilfe Perinatol 1974; 178 224-9
Zeisler H, etal. Influence of acupuncture on maternal serum levels of interleukin-8, prostaglandin F2alpha, and veta-endorphin: a matched pair study. Obstet Gynecol 1998 Aug;92(2):245-8.
Rabl M, Ahner R, Bitschnau M, Zeisler H, Husslein P. Acupuncture for cervical ripening and induction of labour at term – a randomised controlled trail. Wien Klin Wochenschr 2001; 113 (23-24): 942-6
Betts D and Lennox S. Acupuncture For Prebirth Treatment:An Observational Study Of Its Use In Midwifery Practice. Med Acup 2006, 17, (3) 16 – 19