What is Acupressure?
Acupressure is similar to acupuncture, except instead of using needles, acupressure uses physical pressure to be applied to points that run along your body’s meridian system, also known as the body’s energy pathway.
Acupressure can be used during labour and delivery to help manage pain, calm the mind, and improve efficiency of labour. This article will provide useful tips for learning acupressure and locating the acupressure points that can help you during labour. These are the same points that would be stimulated with acupuncture needles during acupuncture.
Benefits of Acupressure for Labour
Why would we want to use acupressure during the later stages of pregnancy and during labour? Studies have shown that acupressure is beneficial for:
- Promoting labour at term.
- Promoting progress and efficiency of labour by promoting cervical ripening and preparing the uterus for efficient uterine contractions.
- Pain management.
- Sense of control during delivery.
- Potentially reducing the necessity for medical interventions during labour.
Is Acupressure Safe?
Acupressure has been found to be safe and is usually well-tolerated with no negative effects for the pregnant person or for the baby. However, some of these acupressure points are thought to be contraindicated or not recommended in early pregnancy. They are safe to be used at term or during labour.
Acupressure usually uses the thumb to stimulate the very same points that otherwise would be stimulated with acupuncture needles. Acupuncture has been found to reduce pain by helping to stimulate the release of certain neurotransmitters including serotonin dopamine and norepinephrine. With acupuncture prior to birth, studies1,2, 3 have found that there’s a statistically significant effect on a few areas:
- reducing pain
- shortening the duration of labour
- reducing the amount of oxytocin that’s administered
- helping women manage pain or even potentially reducing the need for an epidural in pregnancies
Because acupressure uses the same points as acupuncture, it can have the same effects as using acupuncture needles. Let’s go through the specific points that you or your partner / support person can be doing to help you during labour.
As a word of caution, some of these points are thought to be contraindicated or not recommended in early pregnancy. If you’re already at term (37+ weeks) or if you’re in labour all of these points can be used safely. If you are early in your pregnancy, you can feel free to locate the point, but don’t put any firm pressure on it. Just press on that point very gently, but don’t do that repeatedly and don’t put any firm pressure on it.
Acupressure Points To Use During Labour
Large Intestine 4 Point (LI4)
The Large Intestine 4 Point (LI4) is really nice and easy because it is located on the hand, therefore it’s something you can do yourself. The Large Intestine 4 Point (LI4) can be found between the bones of your thumb and your index finger. It lies at the highest point when the thumb is brought to rest against the index finger.
The LI4 is really great for pain management even outside of labour. For example, it is also effective for headaches and congestion pressure in the head. Additionally, the LI4 is great for increasing the efficiency of contractions during labour and helping the baby descend. This is extremely useful if the birthing person is tired and needs a break, because the support person can use acupressure on this point to help with the efficiency of contractions and help the birthing person get through their contractions.
Gall Bladder 21 (GB 21)
Gall Bladder 21 (GB 21) is also referred to as the shoulder point; because of that, it’s a bit harder to find on yourself, so you’ll likely need some assistance with this one To locate the Gall Bladder 21, start at the back of the neck – if you were sliding your finger down your neck, you’d eventually reach a bony prominence just at the base of the neck. This is called the spinous process of our cervical vertebra C7. Mark this spot with one finger. Mark another spot right at the edge of the shoulder, and then mark a spot right in the middle. The spot in the middle is very likely on a high point in the muscle, but it’s also if it’s not. This is the GB21 point.
The GB21 can be fabulous to help stimulate uterine contractions, so it’s a really powerful acupressure point. Please keep in mind that this point is something we shouldn’t be using early on in pregnancy. We only want to use this point either at term or during labour.
Urinary Bladder 32 (BL 32)
The Urinary Bladder 32 (BL 32) is known affectionately as the low back point. It lies midway between the dimples above the buttocks and the lumbar spine, within something called the sacral foramen. You will require a partner to locate and put pressure on this point; it cannot be done by yourself. Your support person or your partner can help find this point on you by putting their hands just above your hip bone on either side and then slide their thumbs towards the back until they find a depression or dimples. They then would slide their thumb a tiny bit towards the midline to find the point. This should not be painful – If the birthing person complains of pain, this means that you are on the bone and not on the right point.
The BL32 is an acupressure point that can be used to help promote efficiency in labour, relieve pain and help to support cervical dilation.
Spleen 6 (SP 6)
The Spleen 6 (SP 6) is a very classic point for a whole host of hormone issues and one that we reserve for the later stage of pregnancy or during labour. This acupressure point helps with cervical dilation and helps to establish strong and regular contractions. This is a point we can actually use in preparation or in early stages of labour and it’s quite easy to find (although it might be harder to reach our ankles in late pregnancy!)
The SP 6 can be located using four of the birthing person’s 4 finger widths above the tip of the inner ankle bone, and 1 finger width behind the edge of the tibia bone. Given that you may have a partner doing this for you, we recommend that you measure that distance yourself and then have your partner measure how many finger widths that spot is for them. If your partner has larger hands than you do, it could be only 3 finger widths for them. Conversely, if they have smaller hands, it could be 4.5 or 5 finger widths.
Urinary Bladder Channel (UB 60)
The Urinary Bladder Channel (UB 60) is a point that is useful during the first stage of labour, as it has a descending action and may assist with optimizingfetal position. This point can also be used before labour around 36 weeks to help optimize fetal positioning.
The UB 60acupressure point is easy to find – it is found on the lower ankle on the outside. If you’re looking at the outer ankle bone, the point is going to be midway between the achilles tendon and that bony prominence or outer ankle bone.
Photo credit: https://bit.ly/3QJhCz3
Kidney 1 (KI 1)
The next point is the Kidney 1 (KI 1) point. This acupressure point can be used at any time during labour. It promotes relaxation and is great to use when the birthing person needs a break, feeling anxious or a little bit stressed out.
The KI 1 point is located on the bottom of the foot. It lies in the depression found in the top ⅓ of the sole of the foot. The depression can be easily located when you point your toes.
The Pericardium 6 is a pressure point that is safe to use earlier on in pregnancy. This acupressure point is 3 of the birthing person’s finger widths above the inner wrist crease. It lies directly between two palpable tendons. Because there are no contraindications earlier on in pregnancy, this is one point that can be used at any point during the pregnancy as well as during labour. It’s an easy one that you can find on your own wrist. The pericardium 6 is used to help subside nausea.
Using Acupressure for Problems During Labour
Certain problems might arise during labour. Acupressure points can be used to help with the following challenges:
Fetal positioning matters, and can impact the length of your labour. Ideally, we’d like for your baby to be in an anterior position – this essentially means that the back of the baby’s head and the baby’s back is facing the birth person’s abdomen, instead of the other way around. If the baby is in a posterior position, labour may be slowed and it could contribute to “back labour” because the baby won’t be passing through the birth canal as efficiently. Birthing a baby in a posterior position is potentially more painful than it needs to be.
The acupressure points that can help turn the baby into an anterior position are the Urinary Bladder 60 or Spleen 6, or a combination of the two. (Also, consider seeing one of our fabulous Oona chiropractors before your baby is born, as they are wizards at improving fetal positioning).
If the birthing person is tired, contractions have slowed down, labour isn’t progressing, or the cervix is not dilating, the Large Intestine 4 and Spleen 6 can be used in combination to help encourage efficient contractions and cervical dilation. If the baby is too high and needs to descend, you can also consider using Gall Bladder 21.
Nausea or Vomiting during Labour
Pericardium 6 is an acupressure point that can be used at any time during labour to help subside nausea.
Register for our Acupressure for Labour and Delivery Workshop
We offer a one-hour class for your and your birth partner / support person where you’ll learn about all of these points mentioned in this article, and how to use them effectively. The class is led by one of our Naturopathic Doctors and is available online and in-person. To learn how to use acupressure points properly and effectively, please register for our class here.
Let Our Team at Oona Help You
At Oona, we have a fantastic group of experienced practitioners that can help you at various stages of your pregnancy and also for your postpartum journey. Don’t hesitate to reach out or book a free appointment with one of our Care Navigators if you’re not sure which service you should be coming in for. We hope to see you in one of our studios soon!
- Hantoushadeh, Alhusseini & Lebaschi, 2007
- Tempore et al, 1998;
- Ramner, Hanson, Kihlgren, 2002