Acupuncture Eases Labor Pain
Acupuncture, the insertion and manipulation of very thin needles into specific points on the body, has been used in China for almost 2,000 years to treat illness and promote health. When applied properly, acupuncture is said to move the qi, or energy, in the body to restore balance to the system. Acupuncture is frequently used to treat pain, drug and alcohol addiction, and headaches. It is also used in obstetrics and gynecology to induce labor, enhance fertility, help alleviate painful menstrual periods, and treat pregnancy morning sickness.
The new study evaluated the results of three clinical trials to assess the usefulness of acupuncture for labor pain relief. Two studies compared the effect of acupuncture in labor with that of conventional care (no acupuncture). The perception of pain, requests for both drug and nondrug pain relief (analgesia), and labor outcomes were compared between the groups. Another study compared the effects of acupuncture with that of placebo acupuncture (needles inserted into non-acupuncture points) on pain perception, requests for analgesics, labor duration, and the need for oxytocin (Pitocin™) to induce labor progression.
In one study comparing acupuncture with conventional care, the women receiving acupuncture requested significantly fewer pain-relieving interventions (epidural anesthesia, meperidine [Demerol™], nitrous oxide, and sterile water injections) than the women not receiving acupuncture. Among the women who received acupuncture, 86% said they would use it again for another childbirth. There were no differences in labor outcomes between the two groups, including the duration of labor, cesarean section rates, and measures of infant wellness.
In the other study of women using acupuncture compared with those who did not, the acupuncture group made significantly fewer requests for epidural anesthesia and other nondrug analgesics (for example, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation [TENS], and bath or shower). The acupuncture recipients also reported feeling significantly more relaxed than the conventional care group.
In the study comparing acupuncture with placebo, the pain perception was significantly less in the acupuncture group. Also, women receiving acupuncture requested less epidural anesthesia and meperidine, and required oxytocin less often than the women in the placebo group.
No adverse events from acupuncture were reported in any of the studies.
The data from these studies suggest that acupuncture is useful for alleviating labor pain. Some analgesic medications have been associated with difficulty in initiating breast-feeding, and epidural anesthesia can sometimes cause chronic headaches and walking problems. Given the lack of adverse effects of acupuncture, and the fact that it may reduce the need for potentially harmful pain-relieving treatments, acupuncture should be considered for easing labor pain.
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc., in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp teaches holistic medicine classes and provides consultations focusing on detoxification and whole-foods nutrition.
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