A doctor conducts acupressure to help a pregnant women combat nausea.
Acupressure may help some women combat pregnancy troubles such as nausea. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

You may have heard of acupuncture, the alternative form of medicine where an acupuncturist inserts small needles into specific points on the body to alleviate pain.

The National Institutes of Health considers it a generally safe practice that may help manage certain pain conditions.

Have you ever heard of acupressure?

It’s another traditional form of Asian medicine, but rather than using needles it involves the application of pressure on specific points of the body.

A practitioner would use her thumbs, fingers or various items to apply firm pressure.

Acupressure uses the gate control theory of pain—the notion that non-painful things block the stimulus of painful things.

So if you’re focusing on the acupressure point, you’re not focusing on nausea or pain.

Or labor discomfort.

That’s right. There are acupressure points that may help in preparation of labor and enduring the pain of labor. It may even help with breastfeeding.

Pregnancy applications

Acupressure can be used at different times in your pregnancy, for different reasons.

Acupressure is not widely used at Spectrum Health locations. It is used on occasion at Spectrum Health Gerber Memorial, where a few nurses are trained in this procedure.

Expectant moms interested in acupressure will likely have to look into this on their own.

It can be used during pregnancy to treat nausea and discomfort, but in some cases it should only be used closer to delivery time.

Certain acupressure points can help you prepare for labor, but some of the techniques should not be used before the 37-week mark. You should always consult your OB-GYN or your health care provider before choosing a therapy.

There are instances where light acupressure treatments can be used during pregnancy.

For example: Have you heard of a Sea-band? It’s worn on the wrist and uses the concept of acupressure on the Nei-Kuan point. These bands are often used to counteract sea sickness.

Many women suffer nausea and vomiting in the early part of pregnancy—and I’ve known pregnant moms who had success using Sea-bands for nausea.

That’s a form of acupressure.

The Sea-band can be bought at drugstores or online. On the Sea-band website, it talks about where to place the band so it covers the correct spot for acupressure.

The main benefit is relief from nausea, but there’s another positive aspect to consider: You’re not using any drugs or medications to alleviate your symptoms.

That means no side effects for mom or baby.

Researchers have found acupressure therapy effective for nausea and vomiting during morning sickness and chemotherapy.

Labor help

Certain acupressure points can be used to get labor started.

In an evidence-based birth class I teach, this therapy is part of the childbirth curriculum.

This treatment can also be used to treat pain, including menstruation pain, labor pain and trauma pain. One study found that it may even shorten the duration of delivery.

Best of all? It’s noninvasive.

A practitioner of acupressure would target points that can be used to treat labor pain.

One such area, dubbed the Large Intestine 4, is the pressure point between your thumb and pointer finger—in the triangular ‘webbing’ area.

I’ve heard about targeting this to combat headaches. Your labor partner or doula can activate these points on each hand.

Another area is called the Bladder 67, located on the outside of the little pinky.

There are also acupressure points for breastfeeding.

Gallbladder 21, located on the shoulder, is used to help the “let down” reflex.

There is compelling evidence that acupressure may help you with various parts of your pregnancy. One study found that the SP6 acupressure point, on the inside of the lower leg, may help with labor pain.

If you’re interested, I would urge you to work only with those who are trained in acupressure or acupuncture.