Acupressure for Birth – When to Step in and When to Knit – by Kerry Marshall Registered Acupuncturist

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I was living in London and newly trained as an acupuncturist. A colleague asked me to attend the birth of her twins and to bring my needles.  I had already been a support person for a couple of friends first babies and loved the experience.  With a combination of pins and acupressure I was able to help with pain relief and progression of labour. Beatrice and Theo were born vaginally and all went well, they are now teenagers and although I have attend many more births they have been my only twins.

It was after this birth I had the opportunity to train with renowned Obstetrician Michel Odent to become a doula.  This is where my approach to being present at a birth changed. A Doula or birth attendant is a non medical presence,  a woman who is known to you throughout pregnancy and will be by your side through labour.  Stories shared of Dr Odent attending births and falling asleep on the couch while the doula knitted and kept one eye through the gap of the birthing woman’s room have stayed with me.  Leave her be, she feels safe, she knows what to do.

So now I had skills to use with acupuncture and acupressure but I was learning that doing nothing and leaving her be was of value also.  It took me a while to be more hands off, to recognise my presence alone was supportive and learn when to step in and when to sit back and knit!  The one constant throughout every labour I have attended is the use of acupressure. I use mostly three points overall but have a few more in my tool kit when twists and turns occur.


During my birth preparation acupuncture sessions I will often teach women and their partners how to apply acupressure for labour.  These points are ones I use with needles to encourage spontaneous labour when a medical induction is looming.  With some instruction and practice they are easy to locate and apply.  The amount of pressure used will vary depending on needs, labour prep or contractions building.  Often women will have some ideas how to manage pain: active positions, shower and bath, hypnobirthing techniques.  Acupressure is another tool to add to your list.  I have had great feedback from partners using these points and women receiving them. Often it is hard to sit back and not help or fuss at your loved one in pain.  Applying pressure can be a non verbal way of connecting a couple through the labour experience as well as being useful and supportive.


A few years after educating and observing the effects of acupressure I was able to experience the benefits during my own labour.  Lets remember that contractions are painful and the more intense they get the closer you are to the end.  Lets also note that an epidural does take away the pain and most other tools help you manage pain.  I spent some time of my labour alone in my bedroom with my team in the house listening to my contractions.  When I did ask for the acupressure it helped me traverse the rise and fall of the contraction without me giving into the pain and it felt steadier with than without.  I also found that when the intensity increased so did the need for the pressure and at times I couldn’t manage without somebodies thumbs pushed deep into my sacrum.  I found a new love for these points.



My three most used points in labour are on the hands, sacrum and shoulders.  For birth preparation or inducing spontaneous labour take 20 mins to apply all three. Get feedback for desired pressure, press and hold. During labour the pressure will increase with pain experienced and you press for the duration of the contraction.


Hand LI4

Located between the thumb and first finger in the web of the hand.  Slide you thumb along the first finger till the tip reaches the bone.  Press lightly at first and get feed back.  This can be used when a women is having an internal exam during labour as well as each or some contractions.  This point has an action of descending Qi and alleviating pain.

Sacrum BL32

This point can be initially tricky to find for the birth partner but worth persevering for. I will often drawer a circle around it in clinic then suggest the partner place thumbs on the mark and then close their eyes to really feel the spot.  Best position is with the woman leaning against a wall or sitting on a fit ball and the partner leaning in for desired pressure.  The sacrum is at the base of the spine where the vertebra fuse.  Use the tip of the bottom crease as the base and imaging a love heart forming around the shape of the sacrum. In this space are depressions (holes in your bone) and thumb pads fit perfectly over these holes. Press your thumbs and body in and ask for feedback.  The woman will let you know when you are on it as it feels right.  This point is deep, supportive and pain relieving during labour.

Shoulders GB21

This point is between the spine and shoulder on the top ridge of muscle.  On most people it is tender to touch. Press your fingers along the ridge and you will find the spot with feedback. I use thumbs or wrists for this point and can press quite firm. GB21 has a descending function of Qi for the first and second stages of labour.  I find this useful when a woman is sitting on a fit ball leaning over and resting arms and head on bed.  I find that between contractions women will often hunch their shoulders to protect them from the next wave of pain.  The position although often instinctual can be counterproductive for releasing and letting go. To just touch this point lightly can release the posture into a more open and relaxed mode.


It is such a privilege to be at a birth witnessing a human accept life and take its first breath.  Being present when a mother meets her baby and I see on her face pure joy, relief, exhaustion, hope, awe, shock and LOVE. This is a wonderful part of my work.


Kerry is Acupuncturist and Birth Doula with a strong advocacy for women’s birthing rights and preparing well for labour and motherhood.

Kerry works Tuesday and Friday mornings from 9am-2pm.

Call 03 9573 6886 to book.