Natural pain relief techniques for childbirth using acupressure
This presentation describes the acupressure techniques developed and taught by Debra Betts to countless pregnant women, birth partners and health professionals around the world. Above all, these simple techniques promote a natural birth and close partner involvement. Debra has a background in nursing and graduated from the London College of Acupuncture in 1989. Returning to New Zealand she established a private practice specialising in pregnancy and women’s health care. She began specifically developing and teaching acupuncture courses to midwives in 1997. This led to the publication of articles on the use of acupuncture and acupressure in obstetric practice in 1999 and her book “The Essential Guide to Acupuncture in Pregnancy & Childbirth” in 2006, with subsequent translations into German and French. Debra completed her PhD on the use of acupuncture in threatened miscarriage in 2014 through the University of Western Sydney and is currently the Director of Postgraduate Programmes for an online Masters course through New Zealand School Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine. She is also a clinical supervisor at a hospital antenatal acupuncture clinic Wellington New Zealand, and lectures internationally on the use of acupuncture in obstetric care.
Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Transcripts - Natural pain relief techniques for childbirth using acupressure
My thanks to those who gave their time and
experience to make this pamphlet a reality.
COPYRIGHT Debra Betts 2003 ©. All rights reserved.
The license attached gives people the right to distribute it entire, but not to alter it or take credit for it in any way.
As an acupuncturist I have been promoting the of use acupressure for use during labour
since 1992. At first I was somewhat sceptical as to just how effective it would be, but felt
that acupressure would be at least be “helpful”.
Initially, although pleased with the positive feedback I was receiving from couples (with
women commenting on a reduction in the pain of contractions and feeling more in
control during labour), as an acupuncturist I considered that acupuncture would be the
preferred method of promoting pain relief during labour. It wasn’t until I used
acupressure during the birth of my second child that I understood just what the feedback
I had been receiving really meant.
This was not a case of “ that feels nice” or “I think this is useful” this was “come back and
press here, now!” For myself, pressure on Ciliao BL-32 appeared to half the intensity of
the contractions – so long as strong pressure with my partner’s knuckles was applied.
This effect lasted until early transition. The difference this made to my perception of
labour was unmistakable, no acupressure and within 2 to 3 contractions the intensity had
dramatically increased, direct acupressure and the intensity immediately diminished. I
had experienced acupuncture during my first birth (ear acupuncture and acupuncture to
Ciliao BL-32 followed by tens) and while at the time I thought it was useful, acupressure
provided a dramatic reduction in my pain perception. Acupressure allowed me the
advantage of unrestricted movement and the option of using water during the labour
and became my preferred choice for the birth of my third child.
The continuing feedback I receive from midwives and couples has led me to believe that
acupressure is capable of giving results that equal if not surpass the use of acupuncture
as a tool for pain relief in labour. Women consistently report a reduction in their pain
combined with an overall sense of calmness and a high level of satisfaction with their
In 1995 I followed up of a sample of 74 women that I taught acupressure to over the
period of a year, 88% percent of the women attempted to use acupressure. Of these
women, 86% used it successfully in labour to significantly reduce their pain. 66% using
terms such as “excellent” and “brilliant” to describe the effects. Of the four couples that
also tried using a tens machine, three discontinued, preferring to resume using
The acupressure points outlined in this booklet are easy to use, promote natural labour
and encourage close partner involvement. It is my hope that in the future acupressure
will be offered to women as part of their routine antenatal care.
This booklet outlines acupuncture points and details their use in acupressure. Each point
has been labelled - the letters indicate the name of the meridian pathway it lies along, and
the number corresponds to the position on that meridian. Extra points have been labelled
according to the body part.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, meridians are a series of channels that carry qi (energy)
through the body. These meridians are a separate system from nerves, blood vessels and
lymphatic ducts. They contain over 600 points. In restoring and balancing the bodies
energy through this meridian system acupuncture and acupressure promote changes to
improve the way the body functions.
In traditional Chinese medicine terms, I see these acupressure points as prompting the
body to work more efficiently. From a medical model, they can be viewed as, promoting
the release of endorphins, blocking the pain receptors to the brain, dilating the cervix,
and increasing the efficiency of the contractions.
• For the maximum benefit to be gained from acupressure, it is important that
the use of these points are commenced as early as possible. Women reporting
the highest satisfaction began using the acupressure points at the beginning of
• Women and their support people need to continually try different acupressure
points during labour, deciding through the women’s feedback which points
are the most useful as she progresses through labour.
• These acupressure points are not to be used if they produce any discomfort, if
effective they will produce a pleasant sensation or noticeable effect that wears
off when discontinued.
• It is important for the support people to understand that this is not massage,
but rather direct firm pressure to a specific area. This is a very “hands on”
technique; no prior knowledge of anatomy or Chinese massage is necessary. If
these acupressure points are useful women will be able to give very clear
instructions to their support people exactly where and how much pressure is
Although I see acupressure as a useful tool for women, and one that is helpful in
promoting an efficient labour, I myself never had any intention of refusing available
western medical pain relief to prove that I could have a “natural childbirth”. It will be
obvious to the woman and her midwife or doctor if acupressure is providing adequate
pain relief, and if not, there are medical pain relief options available. It must also be
remembered that not all labours will go as planned and that western medical
intervention will always play an important role for a certain percentage of women in
There are acupressure points in this booklet labelled “To be used with caution in
pregnancy”. These are points that can be used to induce labour. Due to this effect they
should not be used with any strong regular pressure during a pregnancy. It is possible to
practice locating these points prior to labour but they are only to be used on a regular
basis if the intention is to promote labour.
How much practice is needed I leave up to the individuals to decide. I would suggest
that the support people need to feel comfortable locating the points on the woman’s
body. It is essential that the support people be guided by the woman's actual feedback
during labour as these acupressure points will often feel quiet different then from the
sensations felt during a practice session.
ACUPRESSURE POINTS FOR PAIN RELIEF IN LABOUR
When you draw an imaginary line between the bony prominence of the neck (C7), and the top of
the shoulder joint (the acromion process), this point lies midway along this curved line, at the
highest point of the shoulder muscle. It will feel tender with a numbing/ buzzing/ warming
sensation (this sensation varies with individuals). The sensation is stronger on this point than any
other points along this line You can find this point on yourself by bringing your hand diagonally
across your chest and palpating with your index finger along this “imaginary line.”
• It is important that support people apply firm downwards pressure with their thumb/
knuckle/ elbow. This acupressure point responds to pressure, massaging and rubbing
the area can be irritating for women during labour.
• When using the thumbs the pressure needs to come from the arms rather than the
thumb joint - otherwise people will end up with very sore thumbs.
• It is not unusual for support people to resort to using the ends of two wooden spoons,
but it is preferable to start with using hands when possible. These acupressure points
are usually used with the support person applying pressure using their knuckles on
both shoulders together, but I know of women who have successfully used this on
themselves using only one shoulder at a time.
• The pressure can be applied at the beginning of each contraction or continual gentle
pressure applied that is intensified during contractions.
• This acupressure point has a descending action to aide the first and second stages of
labour and can stimulate uterine contractions.
This acupressure point is to be used with caution during pregnancy
This acupressure point lies midway between the dimples above the buttocks and the lumbar
spine (please note that Ciliao BL-32 is not the dimple). If you cannot see the dimples clearly, It lies
approximately one of the women’s index finger lengths above the top of the buttock crease,
approximately one thumb width either side of the spine. When you place your finger on Ciliao
BL-32 you can feel the small depression of the sacral foramen where the point lies. As labour
begins you can start here and as the labour progresses move down the spine (approximately one
thumb width at a time moving slightly closer to the centre of the spine until as you arrive at the
top of the buttock crease, your knuckles will be touching). The timing of this movement
downwards will depend on the women, who will usually instinctually tell the support person to
apply pressure lower as the baby descends during labour.
• The support person places their knuckles into the acupressure points and applies firm
pressure. This pressure can be increased by the women rocking backwards into the
support person at the beginning of a contraction.
• From feedback these appear to be the most frequently used points. Producing a
pleasant “anaesthetising” effect on the strength of the contractions, noticeably
“wearing off“ when the pressure is discontinued and building up again when
• There is a distinct sensation produced when you are pressing into the sacral foramen.
This may be felt as a numbness, warmth, tingling, aching or buzzing. If there is sharp
pain the support person is pressing on the surrounding bone and need to readjust
their pressure slightly.
• It is important to note that for some women the sacral foramen are not exactly in a
straight line. Be guided by the women’s feedback.
• This acupressure point is most frequently used with women leaning or kneeling
against a wall, table or bed. It can also be effectively used in water; it just requires a
little flexibility on behalf of the support people!
This point is in a direct horizontal line from the top of the buttock crease. If you press along this
line there will be a tender point approximately two thirds of the distance between the buttock
crease and the hipbone.
• When the support person places their hands on the woman’s hips they can push their
thumbs into this point, helping the woman to move in rotating movements during
• This point can be used as the women enters transition, either with direct pressure or
combined with strong downward massage from Ciliao BL-32 out to this point.
These points lie along the creases of the hands where the fingers join the palm. These are said to
help release endorphins (the body’s natural painkillers) into the body.
• Women can hold a small comb in the palm of their hand so that the teeth of the comb
are touching these points. They can then grip the comb during contractions, applying
pressure to the level that feels the most useful.
This point lies in depression found in the top one third of the sole of the foot. It can be easily
located as a depression formed when the foot is placed in planter flexion (by pulling the toes
towards the sole of the foot).
• The support person can place strong pressure in this depression with their knuckle,
pushing inwards and upwards towards the big toe.
• This acupressure point has a useful relaxing effect and can be used at any time during
labour. It has been noted as being especially useful effective in producing a calming
effect during transition. It is easily accessed at this time if the woman is positioned on
• This acupressure point is especially useful during a labour where there are feelings of
panic (for example, going into a labour with a unpleasant previous birth experience).
• This acupressure point can also be utilized by placing a seasickness band over the foot
so that the plastic press button lies over the point. In this way the point is stimulated
as the women walks around during labour.
This point is found between the first and second metacarpal bones (the bones of the thumb and
first finger). It lies at the highest point formed when the thumb is brought to rest against the
• The women or her support person can firm pressure with their thumb. This
acupressure point has a dull achy feeling when located correctly.
• Acupressure to this point can be used to providing general pain relief in labour. It can
be very useful as women head towards transition. Midwives and women have
reported on the effectiveness of using ice on this point (with the ice cubes placed in a
small plastic bag or wrapped in a cloth and then placed over the point).
• Hegu L.I.-4 has a function of stimulating efficient contractions. It can be useful during
labour if contractions are of irregular intensity.
• A useful acupressure point during the second stage of labour once the cervix has fully
dilated. It aids the body’s efforts to move the baby down through the birth canal and
can be especially useful if women are tired and not pushing effectively.
This acupressure point is to be used with caution during pregnancy
This acupressure point is found in a depression midway between the tip of the lateral malleolus
(the external ankle bone) and the outer edge of the achilles tendon.
• A support person can apply pressure to this acupressure point by gripping the
women’s ankles and applying firm pressure with their thumbs.
• This acupressure point is frequently used in the first stage of labour; it has a
descending action and can be used to promote the baby to descend during labour.
This acupressure point is to be used with caution during pregnancy.
This acupressure point is located using four of the woman’s finger widths above the tip of the
medial malleous (the shin bone on the inside of the ankle). This area will often be tender and the
point is found when you slide your finger off the edge of the tibia bone, towards the inside of the
leg. It is useful to press on the tibia when first locating this point as pressing on this bone
produces a very different sensation from the acupressure point.
• The women or support person can apply direct pressure with their index finger or
• This acupressure point has an effect in helping the cervix to dilate and can be used to
help the cervix to dilate efficiently. Women having their first child or those who have
experienced dilation difficulties in a previous birth might like to use this point in
early labour. It can be used by applying firm acupressure on one leg at a time for
approximately one minute, then using it on the opposite leg 20 - 30 minutes later.
Once labour has become established (the contractions have become efficient and
regular), acupressure can be discontinued.
• This acupressure point will often be tender and after using it some women report
feeling their cervix stretching and contractions strengthening.
This acupressure point is to be used with caution during pregnancy.
ACUPRESSURE TO INDUCE LABOUR
The term “waters breaking “ refers to the rupture of the membranes surrounding the baby and
the gush or the leaking of amniotic fluid through the vagina. Although a significant sign of early
labour, labour will not always automatically commence. Due to a possible risk of infection a
medical induction will be considered if labour does not establish spontaneously.
Women need to notify their midwife or doctor immediately if their waters are discoloured that
is, if they notice a brownish /greenish appearance to the amniotic fluids.
If a woman’s membranes have ruptured Hegu L.I.-4, Sanyinjiao SP-6 and Ciliao BL-32 can be
used to help establish labour.
Hegu L.I.-4 can be used in combination with Sanyinjiao SP-6 with the woman or her support
person applying firm pressure to each point for several minutes at hourly or 2 hourly intervals.
All four acupressure points can be used, or for practical purposes Hegu LI.-4 on one hand can be
used in combination with the Sanyinjiao SP-6 point of the opposite leg. This combination can be
repeated 1- 2 hours later starting with Hegu L.I.-4 on the opposite hand.
Ciliao BL-32 can also be used in combination with Hegu L.I.-4 and Sanyinjiao SP-6 with the
support person applying firm downward stokes from Ciliao BL-32 through to the buttocks for 5
minutes once or twice a day
ACUPRESSURE PRIOR TO A MEDICAL INDUCTION
If it is seen as necessary by a woman’s midwife or doctor to medically induce labour the use of
acupressure as outlined above can be commenced three days prior to the medical induction. The
aim of the acupressure is to help establish contractions and promote cervical dilation. Even if
labour does not commence spontaneously, feedback from midwives suggest that a woman’s
cervix is more favourable following acupressure and that there is an increased chance of a woman
progressing through the induction with minimal intervention.
ACUPRESSURE FOR A SOCIAL INDUCTION
Social induction is a term I use to indicate that women are interested in trying to induce labour
around their due date for personal reasons. For example to coincide with a family member
visiting or their partner’s work commitments.
It must be remembered that due dates do not actually indicate the exact day that a baby will be
born. It is only an indication of when a baby is due, in reality it is estimated that only 4% of babies
will actually arrive on their due date.
While acupressure can be seen as more “natural” than a medical induction it is still an
intervention. I would caution any women attempting to induce their labour for any reason other
than on a recommendation by her doctor or midwife. The mechanisms that lie behind labour
commencing are complex and while acupressure may be helpful in stimulating contractions this
does not guarantee labour will progress efficiently.
ACUPRESSURE POINTS FOR PROBLEMS IN LABOUR
There are a variety of reasons why problems may arise in labour. These acupressure points on
many cases will promote a prompt response with labour becoming more efficient within ten
minutes so that further intervention is no longer required. They are given in light of the positive
feedback given by midwives who use them before progressing, when necessary, on to the
appropriate medical interventions. They are intended as a tool to promote the body to labour
more effectively, and in no circumstances should be used to delay medical intervention when it is
deemed necessary by a midwife, doctor or specialist.
The best position for a baby to fit easily through the pelvis is one termed an anterior position.
This is when the back of the baby’s head and its back face anterior towards the mother’s
abdomen. If lying slightly to the left it is termed LOA or Left Occipito Anterior, if lying to the
right it is termed ROA or Right Occipito Anterior.
If the baby is lying with the back of its head and back facing posterior towards the mother’s spine
it is termed a posterior position. This can be LOP (Left Occipito Posterior) or ROP (Right Occipito
Posterior). In either of these positions labour may become less efficient as the baby’s head is not
lying in an optimal position over the cervix, delaying progress as the cervix dilates. The woman
will also feel increased back pain due to the baby’s back being pressed up against her spine.
Women and support people may become aware that the baby is in a posterior position before
labour commences from the antenatal palpation by the midwife or doctor, during the birth due to
the back pain the women is experiencing or from the comments of their midwife or doctor.
The points below can be tried to help the baby turn into an anterior position during labour.
Feedback from midwives suggests that if these points are useful labour will notably change with
the contractions becoming more efficient and the back pain reducing within ten minutes.
KUNLUN BL-60 IN COMBINATION WITH SANYINJIAO SP-6
These points can be used together, placing pressure on Kunlun BL-60 for up to two minutes
followed by pressure to Sanyinjiao SP-6 for up to two minutes, preferably both legs are used so
that in total four points are utilised.
This point lies on the little toe, just on the outside aspect of the toenail.
This point is usually stimulated by midwives using a very tiny needle on a plaster for each toe –
termed press needles they are used by acupuncturists for ear acupuncture. In preparation for
labour these may be able to be sourced from a local acupuncturist and taken into labour, just in
case. When the baby presents in a posterior position during labour they can then be applied and
left in place; if they feel uncomfortable they need to be repositioned. When using local pressure to
stimulate the point the blunt end of a ballpoint pen or a fingernail can be used, feedback suggests
the support person simply applies pressure for up to five minutes.
UNESTABLISHED LABOUR OR FAILURE TO PROGRESS
If the baby is known to be in an anterior position but labour is not progressing efficiently the
following points can be used in combination to encourage efficient contractions and cervical
SANYINJIAO SP-6 AND HEGU L.I.-4
Acupressure can be used for several minutes on each point. If possible Hegu L.I.-4 on one
hand can be used in combination with the Sanyinjiao SP-6 point of the opposite leg. Ten
minutes later this combination can be repeated starting with Hegu L.I.-4 on the opposite
This is when, although the woman feels the urge to push, the cervix has not yet dilated fully. The
cervix then has a swollen “lip” which makes it difficult to achieve full dilation. The woman will
be told not to push by her midwife or doctor.
If this becomes a problem during labour Sanyinjiao SP-6 and Ciliao BL-32 can be used.
Strong pressure with your knuckles is applied into Ciliao BL-32 for up to ten minutes. If possible
pressure to Sanyinjiao SP-6 can also be used in combination.
FAILURE TO PROGRESS DURING SECOND STAGE
If a woman is fully dilated but there are problems in pushing the baby down through the birth
canal firm acupressure to Jianjing GB-21 and Hegu L.I.-4 can be applied for 5-10 minutes.
NAUSEA AND VOMITING DURING LABOUR
This point is three of the women’s finger widths above the transverse crease of the inner wrist. It
lies directly between the two tendons felt here. (The tendons of palmaris longus and flexor carpi
This can be used for mild feelings of nausea through to vomiting.
Place pressure on the point and hold until the symptoms are relieved, usually within five
You can use pressure on both wrists or only one, whatever is more practical at the time.
It is possible to buy a wristband to help apply pressure to this point. They are available through
chemists and have plastic buttons on them to place pressure over the acupressure point.
Alternately you can make your own. Form a wrist band with elastic, and sew onto it a rounded
button. Wear it with the rounded edge pressing into your skin. Take care that once in place the
pressure exerted on the acupressure point through the button is firm but not uncomfortable.
ACUPRESSURE POST BIRTH
These are intermittent contractions that occur for several days as the uterus moves back into
position following birth. They are often at their most noticeable as the baby begins to breast-feed.
While these after pains may be mild after the birth of a first child they can become increasingly
severe with subsequent births. Acupressure points include Sanyinjiao SP-6.
Acupressure to Sanyinjiao SP-6 can be can be used at the beginning of a breastfeed to help reduce
the intensity of the contractions. Support people can apply pressure to both legs as the women
begin to breast-feed or if this is not possible the women can apply pressure just before a feed.
Often pressure to this point will have an almost “magical” effect in helping to lessen the pain
associated with these after pains.
Support people can help promote efficient breast feeding by applying acupressure to Jianjing GB-
21 just prior to or as the women begins to breast feed.
Acupressure to this point is used to help promote the breast milk letdown reflex. It is also located
in an area where women often carry a lot of muscular tension and can be a pleasant way for
support people to help women relax during breast feeding.
“I found using acupressure during labour brilliant. Having used acupressure I wouldn’t even
consider being in labour without it. The difference was amazing - I felt a lot calmer and able to
cope and much more relaxed. It was really good for me to have my partner so closely involved
with each contraction - I felt connected and supported. Acupressure helped me stay focused and
calm. Acupressure is safe, effective, natural and I was in control. An ideal pain management
Sarah Doherty, Wellington
“ When I went into labour with my second child, I used the acupressure points thinking they
would take the edge off the pain at least. It wasn’t until I had a contraction while my husband
was loading the car that I realised just how effective they were! They halved the pain and allowed
me to feel more in control of things. It was easy to learn them and meant my husband got to do
something very useful during the birth. The labour felt much quicker since the contractions didn’t
feel as bad as the first labour, right up to transition, which meant I only used the acupressure
points and didn’t need any other pain relief.”
Cathryn Skumiewski, Wellington
“ The simple technique of Acupressure enabled me to get through a short sharp labour without
artificial pain relief. It also helped my partner to play an active part in the birth of our son - I’ve
been recommending it flat out since my most positive experience with it! “
Ruth Oliver, Wellington
“ At first I was very cynical about acupressure’s ability to relieve the pain of childbirth, but as
soon as my partner’s contractions began, it was obvious that this was really effective. She almost
seemed to enjoy the contractions, as long as I was pressing very hard indeed on the right spots
and not letting up for an instant. This was also the ideal way for me to feel fully involved in the
birth and not get too panicky. We had a trouble-free, doctor-free labour and birth and we now
have a beautiful, healthy, happy son. I’d recommend acupressure to anyone having a baby.”
Mark Derby, Wellington.
NZ Reg. Nurse, Lic Acupuncture British College, Diploma of Acupuncture, MNZRA
Debra is a New Zealand registered nurse qualifying as an acupuncturist in London in 1989.
Returning to New Zealand she has divided her time between lecturing at the New Zealand
School of Acupuncture, tutoring courses for midwives in the use of acupuncture during
pregnancy and labour and a private practice where her focus is on women's health specialising in
Debra and her husband have three children. The youngest two were natural deliveries, using the
techniques outlined in this pamphlet.
Original illustrations by Tina Young
Sourced illustrations reproduced with permission from A Manual of Acupuncture,
Peter Deadman and Mazin Al-Khafaji (2001)