As many of you reading this know, I have been away on maternity leave for the past month. In honor of my return to the office, I am taking a moment to share a bit of my story. Of course I could write for days about Parker, my now one month old baby boy, but I will refrain from doing too much of that and focus on the bit that relates to Acupressure. But first, I will shamelessly share a photo... or perhaps two.
And with those out of the way, I can continue!
I went into labor hoping to avoid as much medical intervention as possible. Being an acupuncturist, it’s no surprise that I believe in the power of the body’s innate ability to heal and care for itself. This being said, I chose to deliver at a hospital where I could have access to any help that became potentially necessary. I have no regrets for this choice, and am beyond grateful for the nursing staff that helped me through the birthing process. But this post is about the incredible influence acupressure had on my experience. Acupressure is similar to acupuncture, but instead of using needles to access points on the body, firm pressure is applied.
The star of this story is LI4. Many of you know this point. If you’ve been to acupuncture it may have been used for pain or “stagnation” somewhere in your body. If you have headaches or menstrual pain there is a very good chance your practitioner included this point in your treatment plan. It stands for Large Intestine 4 and is located in the soft tissue between your thumb and pointer finger. Go ahead, pinch around in that area. Tender? It usually is.
Going into labor, I admit that I didn’t have much of a structured plan for how I would get through whatever mystery was lying ahead (this was my first pregnancy). I did however have a handful of acupuncture points for pain relief that I wanted my husband to know about. Being a good sport, he packed away my 20 page print out on “Natural pain relief techniques for childbirth using Acupressure” by Debra Betts and promised to read through it when we got to the hospital. As all procrastinators can relate to, the print out remained nicely folded in his hospital go-bag without ever making an appearance. But it didn’t matter - there was really only one point that seemed to be necessary in the heat of the moment.
I had a relatively short active labor, but had it not been for my husband pinching this point with all his might, I’m not sure I would have made it through without begging for an epidural. You see, I was part of the mere 10% or so of people who choose not to have an epidural in the hospital setting. Because of this point, I was able to achieve my goal. Nurses told me later that the epidural anesthesiologist rolled her eyes when she heard I was a first time mom hoping not to use pain medication. She said she’d give me about an hour before I was changing my mind. Again, if not for LI 4, she would have been right!
A skeptic would argue that pinching anywhere on the body could take the mind away from the pain of the contraction and therefore be helpful. Maybe... but after my experience I’d beg to differ. And for any of you that have experienced childbirth, it’s incredibly hard to imagine that a simple “pinch” could reduce the pain of pushing an 8 lb human through the birth canal. But alas, I’m here to tell you that it did. The few contractions I had to endure without a pincher grasp on LI 4, were a near 50% more intense than the ones where my husband was obediently gripping the point like his life depended on it. Research presented by Michael Corradino, a doctor of acupuncture and oriental medicine as well as the founder of Neuropuncture LLC, suggests that this point reduces pain by stimulating the hypothalamus to release beta endorphins (poly-opioid peptides that regulate the perception of pain) to block pain signals.
According to the nursing staff, loosely 80-90% of hospital deliveries in Missoula are done with an epidural. I wonder how that percentage would change with the regular use of LI 4. Granted, I respect that many women don’t have the same arguably insane drive to forgo pain medication... but there are certainly a handful that arrive at the hospital with the hope of experiencing childbirth sans pain medication and end up electing to have the epidural.
If you fall into the small percentage that want to utilize every resource before opting for the epidural, don’t overlook the usefulness of acupressure. And perhaps, have your partner become familiar with the points (there are more than just LI 4) before you are huffing and puffing through contractions! And lastly, I will leave you with the reminder that no matter how your labor and deliver goes there is no right or wrong way to bring a baby into the world. Once they’re in you arms, the rest is history.
Andrea is a licensed Acupuncturist, Massage Therapist and Chinese Herbalist living and practicing in the beautiful city of Missoula, Montana.