Acupressure for Birth

I just completed a wonderful course on acupressure for birth. I learned a few useful acupressure points in my doula training, and have found them helpful in some labors. I jumped at the opportunity to expand my knowledge with this course! I really enjoyed learning more about how my hands can be used to support a laboring client, beyond simple touch and massage.

Using acupressure for nausea on a client in transition. Photo courtesy of  Tara Ruby .

Using acupressure for nausea on a client in transition. Photo courtesy of Tara Ruby.

First, let’s briefly discuss how acupressure works. Acupressure and acupuncture are age-old therapeutic modalities, originating from ancient China. When using acupressure, we are focused on certain points of the body that correspond to certain conditions. Research shows that using these points stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. (The autonomous nervous system controls our ‘fight or flight’ responses, while the parasympathetic controls our ‘rest and digest’ functions). We know it is essential for the birthing person to be as relaxed as possible during labor, and the parasympathetic nervous system helps by slowing the heart rate, increasing gland activity, and relaxing sphincter muscles. (Remember, the cervix is a sphincter!) Evan, one of the instructors of the course, summarizes it this way: “acupressure gives us a direct line of influence into the most basic functions of the nervous system’s control over the birthing process.”

I think the most helpful things I learned in this course were how to use acupressure for postpartum and cesarean births. In the postpartum period, we can utilize points for fatigue, uterine recovery, and lactation. When supporting a cesarean birth, we can not bring things with us into the OR, and many of our comfort measures that we use in labor are not appropriate. Using acupressure allows us to help the mother to remain calm and be present during their surgical birth. It can also help alleviate some of the discomforts common to cesareans, such as headache and shortness of breath.

Acupressure is useful for many situations in labor, birth, and postpartum; everything from anxiety and nausea, to bleeding and lactation. For most conditions, there are multiple points that can be stimulated to increase the effects. It is important to be trained in acupressure, as some points can induce labor, and should not be used without permission of one’s care provider. On the other hand, using inappropriate points will not bring about the helpful effects we desire.

Further Reading:

Acupuncture or Acupressure for Pain Relief during Labor

Acupressure to reduce labor pain: a randomized controlled trial

Acupuncture or acupressure for induction of labor

1820s Motherhood

Last week, while a friend was in from out-of-town, we were able to tour the Isaiah Davenport House here in Savannah, GA. I was immediately intrigued by this photo:

This is a silhouette of Sarah Davenport, given to her as a gift after delivering her 10th child (7 survived infancy). It was done in 1828 by a silhouette artist by the name of Master Hanks. The thing that blew me away is that this piece was made when she was one week postpartum!

This and some of the other artifacts (pictured below) made me wonder, what was it like to be a mother in the 1820s.

With further research, I have compiled some interesting tidbits about birth in the 1820s.

1. It was deadly.

If a woman were to survive the birth itself, she was susceptible to childbed fever, now known as puerperal fever. The quick-progressing symptoms of this bacterial infection of the reproductive tract consisted of extreme abdominal pain, fever, and weakness. It took many years for doctors to learn the cause of the disease, which was eventually found to be caused by the lack of sanitation at the time. Doctors would often go directly from autopsies to births, with no hand hygiene between. The idea of doctors spreading the disease was first proposed in the early 1790s by Alexander Gordon, but was not accepted until 1885. It remained a problem due to carelessness in antiseptic routine, until sulfa and penicillin were introduced as treatments in the 1930s and 40s. We also cannot neglect the fact that deliveries were much more traumatic in this time, causing more wounds and a greater opportunity for infection to set in.

If women did not succumb to the fever, there were of course other deadly complications such as postpartum hemorrhage or obstructed labor. In fact, women wrote their wills upon finding out they were pregnant. Non-deadly, but life-altering, complications also occurred. These included damage from untreated infections and venereal diseases (antibiotics were not widely used for nearly another century),  uterine prolapse, and fistulas.

Cornelia Augusta, Isaiah and Sarah's ninth child, died of childbed fever in 1853 at age 29.

2. Pain relief

Ether was first used in 1847, and chloroform shortly thereafter, but obviously were not available for Sarah's births in the 1820s. These medications also made the use of forceps more common, as they made it difficult for women to push effectively.

3. Doctor or midwife?

Before the 19th century, all births were attended by midwives. In the 1820s, most births were still at home (only 5% of deliveries occured in hospitals by 1900), but began to be attended by doctors as well. Sarah most likely had a home birth with a midwife, but we can't be certain.



Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born by Tina Cassidy

Lying-In: A History of Childbirth in America by Richard Wertz & Dorothy Wertz