Acupressure, shiatsu and reflexology for labour

Acupressure, Shiatsu and Reflexology work on similar principles to acupuncture, and may be more suitable to use during the labour, but possibly be less effective. Like acupuncture, they have all evolved from ancient medicine, and have been in use for many years.

The basis of their beliefs is that energy flows through major body ‘meridians’ or ‘channels’. The stimulation of this energy at specific points with pressure is thought to correspond to the different body organs, releasing trapped energy to relieve stress, pain or discomfort, and rebalance the body’s life force.

Certain points are stimulated by using the thumb, finger or elbow, to exert pressure (instead of needles). This is aimed at assisting with pain relief during the labour. Your partner, or support person, can learn to find these points, but it is recommended that they are NOT stimulated during the pregnancy. You do not need to access a qualified acupuncturist at inconvenient hours for acupressure, and some women prefer these methods, rather than using needles

Things to consider

  • Knowing and practising locating the points during the last weeks of the pregnancy (but not applying pressure), will help your partner or support person to familiarise themselves with using these methods. This will make their use quick and more effective, avoiding a scenario of unsuccessful experimentation while the woman is trying to deal with contractions. Some women will place temporary ink spots on the ‘points’ in early labour to make their location easier.
  • The partner (or support person) needs to be aware of their own body when maintaining these pressure points over time. They should try to stretch and relax their own bodies periodically.
  • The various points for pain relief can be stimulated while the woman is labouring in the shower, or bath, and when she changes from one position to another during the labour. She should not be restricted, nor need to modify her choice of positions.
  • The woman may find it does not work for her, or she feels it is distracting (or annoying) and may ask her partner, or support person to stop.

Pain Relief Points

There are a few different points that some women will use for pain relief during their labour. They include:

  • Neck points (GB 21) – Some support people will use the neck points (known as ‘GB 21’) to help the woman with her labour pain, during the 1st and 2nd stages of the labour. The neck points can be found when the woman drops her head slightly forward, and the partner, support person or caregiver runs their fingers down the back of the woman’s neck, until a prominent bone is felt at the base of the neck (the 7th cervical bone). An imaginary curved line runs from the bony prominence of her neck, to the top of her shoulder joint. The points lie midway along this curved line, at the highest point of the shoulder muscle.The neck points should only be used in labour. The person will usually apply a firm, downward pressure with their thumbs, knuckles or elbows. For people who prefer to use their thumbs, the pressure needs to come from down through their arms, to avoid having sore, tired thumbs.The person will normally apply the acupressure to both shoulders together, starting at the beginning of each contraction and gradually building the pressure up with the contraction. The pressure is usually released, once the contraction has subsided. A gentle rub and massage of the shoulder, neck and jaw area, can help the woman to relax, also reminding her to release any tension.
  • Buttock points (BL 32) – The buttock point (known as ‘BL32’) lies just above the buttocks, one-finger width either side of the spine. When the person feels this point with their finger, they should be able to feel a small depression where the point lies. Many labouring woman will direct the person performing the acupressure, because when the thumbs are in the correct place they usually ‘feel right’. As the labour progresses and intensifies, the person applying pressure to the points moves down the spine (often about one thumb width at a time) to move slightly closer to the spine, until the thumbs arrive at the top of the buttock cleft. This can be repeated throughout the labour. Many women find this a great relief, particularly when their back aches during, and after, the contractions. This point is easier to get to if the woman is kneeling on all fours, leaning against the wall, table or bed and can be used in shower, or bath, providing she is on all fours.
  • Reflexology points – Each time the contraction starts, the person administering the reflexology takes one foot (or both) and applies strong pressure with their finger or thumb at the beginning of the contraction, easing off the pressure as the contaction finishes. Points include a point that lies between the fleshy pads under the big toe and next toe, a point that lies just below the centre of the ball of the foot and a set of half moon shaped points that lie from where the toes join the foot to the farthest end of the ball of the foot.

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