Could Acupuncture Lower Your Chances of Needing a C-Section?
We are very grateful for C-sections. Whether the procedure is planned or used in an emergency, it’s a medical feat that saves lives and has changed the landscape of birth. That being said, in many cases, it’s a back-up procedure that an obstetrical team works to avoid.
Breech presentation is a common cause of needing to schedule a C-section, and acupuncture can be helpful in these cases. However, many C-sections are the end-result in a long chain of interventions. After your estimated due date passes, your provider will keep a close eye on you and the health of your baby. If labor doesn’t begin spontaneously, your team will start discussing plans for potential induction. Each provider differs in their policies, but depending on your health and pregnancy, induction is most common between 41 and 42 weeks of gestation.
Success of medical labor induction is often correlated with a person’s Bishop score at the time the induction begins. Bishop scores are based on multiple criteria: cervical position, dilation, thinning, softening, and baby’s station. When combined, these factors indicate how close a person is to entering active labor. These aspects also help your provider decide which methods to use to begin the induction. Techniques include cervical softening via topical medications, dilation via a small saline-filled balloon, and initiation of uterine contractions via pitocin.
These methods are sometimes referred to as the beginning of the ‘cascade of interventions’. Misoprostol (a cervical softening agent) and pitocin both have the potential to cause contractions that are stronger in intensity – yet sometimes less effective – than what your body would produce on its own. A great video uses a balloon and a ping pong ball to perfectly demonstrate the concept of effective contractions. Unfortunately, these induced contractions also have a tendency to be painful, which leads to an increased need for epidurals. Once an epidural is in place, you can no longer walk around to use positional changes and gravity during labor. If you start with a low Bishop score, this cascade is more likely to result in delayed labor (“failure to progress”) and potentially, a C-section.
While we’re thankful that every one of these options exists, it’s ideal to avoid the cascade when possible. Beginning around 37 weeks of pregnancy, acupuncturists can perform labor preparation treatments to encourage the body’s transition into labor when it’s ready. Your practitioner will ask some questions to determine where you are on the early labor spectrum: does it feel to you like the baby has ‘dropped’? Do you have any aches or pains in your pelvis or back? Have you noticed any changes in vaginal discharge? Practitioners with experience treating prenatal patients are able to select points based on your individual presentation to treat your body at its current stage. We recommend coming in for acupuncture treatments twice per week from weeks 37-40. If you’re past due, it’s best to come in every other day, or even daily in some cases.
I like to remind patients that bodies prepare for labor over a span of weeks. It’s a spectrum of transition from holding tight for many months to opening and descension. Everything you do to encourage labor moves you a little further along that spectrum. If you do end up needing to be medically induced, your efforts were not made in vain! Your body will likely be further along the spectrum than if you hadn’t made these efforts, serving as momentum during the induction process.