Acupuncture Reduces Pain During Labor
Women who receive acupuncture during labor may experience less pain and require less analgesic medication, according to a new study in The Clinical Journal of Pain (2003;19:187–91). A large majority of women receiving acupuncture treatments during labor said they would want it again if they were to give birth again.
In the new study, 200 pregnant women were randomly assigned to receive acupuncture treatments during labor or no acupuncture. Specific acupuncture points were chosen by the midwife based on the woman’s needs during labor. The needles were left in for about 20 minutes, but some women required a shorter or longer duration of treatment. Analgesics, including meperidine (Demerol®), nitrous oxide, epidural block (an injection of an anesthetic in the low back that numbs all of the nerves going to the uterus), and hot water bottles were used in both groups as needed for pain. The amount of analgesic medication used was recorded during labor and delivery.
In the group receiving acupuncture, 11% received meperidine during labor, compared with 37% of those who did not receive acupuncture. The percentage of women who required no analgesics at all in the acupuncture and placebo groups was 34% and 18%, respectively. When women who received acupuncture were questioned about whether they would want it if they gave birth again, more than 85% said they would.
The main reason for using analgesic medications during labor is to decrease or eliminate pain associated with uterine contractions. Meperidine is one of the most widely used medications for pain relief during labor but some studies suggest it is not very effective for pain control and may have adverse side effects on babies. An epidural block is effective but is not always appropriate for some stages of labor. Moreover, it is invasive and does not last long, which is problematic for women with prolonged labor. Acupuncture appears to be an effective method of pain control during labor and has no adverse side effects on the mother or baby.
Acupuncture is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, a system of medicine that has developed over 5,000 years. Other forms of acupuncture have also come from Japan, Korea, and Thailand. The effectiveness of acupuncture for many conditions has been observed over thousands of years and, more recently, in controlled studies. While acupuncture is common in hospitals in China, receiving acupuncture during labor in the United States may be difficult, since acupuncturists are generally restricted from practicing in hospitals. However, some hospitals and birthing centers do allow acupuncture to be performed during the course of labor. For more information, consult a physician or midwife familiar with acupuncture.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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