Acupressure to induce labour?

Q:  I am  39 weeks pregnant and was wondering if you do acupressure massages to induce labour? I'm desperate and my doctor has given the go ahead.

A:  This topic, at least for acupuncture rather than acupressure, was the cause for a very heated debate inside the profession a few years ago. We had received a number of enquiries from women who wanted to choose the time of their delivery, and one in particular who wanted to speed up the labour process so that she could give birth before, rather than during, her holiday. On the one side were practitioners who argued that a woman had a right to control her own health, and that this extended to choosing when she wanted to go into labour. On the other side were those who argued that childbirth is a natural process and it is not appropriate to interfere with its timing. Indeed, many argued that you couldn't force a natural process to speed up anyway, only make sure that there were no sticking points in the transitions which held things up.

In the event, as a regulator our decision was much more prosaic and driven by medical concerns. In conventional medicine no consultant, doctor or midwife would agree to any attempts to a medical induction of labour until the baby was at term and already overdue, usually at least 41 weeks, and our members were entitled, with the express permission of the person in charge of the delivery, to attempt to help the labour to start if and only if a medical induction was pending and acupuncture was tried to see if the use of drugs could be avoided.

At least some of the argument which kicked off was about trust. If someone says 'my doctor has said it is OK', then in 99 times out of a hundred, this is likely to be the case. The retort, that 'this is what someone would say, wouldn't they?', was correct in at least one case we were made aware of where the mother chose not to involve her care team but told her practitioner that she had done. We had to tell members that for their own protection they had no choice but to ensure that they spoke directly for the midwife or consultant. Our view was that if anything went wrong it was extremely likely that the mother's permission would exonerate them from liability.

We think that you could usefully talk to one of our members who spends a great deal of time working with late stage pregnancy for personal advice. We do not keep a database of members who have expert skills in this area (not until we have finally agreed standards for what counts as being an expert) but if you google 'acupuncture' and 'childbirth' together with where you live we are certain that you will find a BAcC member local to you from whom you can get face to face advice on what to do for the best. The fact that your doctor has given the go-ahead suggests that there may be reasons to expedite labour, but formally at 39 weeks we have to say that this decision rests with him or her and that our member would not proceed unless and until this consent had been gained.

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