Acupuncture in the delivery room remains a prickly research topic

April 28, 2010 |  5:12 pm

Acupuncture has been practiced in labor and delivery rooms since the 1970s, but its efficacy has been hard to judge. Two studies released Wednesday provide more mixed results.

The first report pooled data from 10 clinical trials in which some patients received acupuncture (sometimes in conjunction with traditional pain relievers) and others were treated with drugs. The trials were conducted in Europe, China and Iran, with varying results.

Some of the trials found that women who used acupuncture were able to get through labor with lower doses of Demerol or other pain-relieving drugs. But the researchers said they weren’t persuaded that the acupuncture needles deserved the credit.

“Our analyses show that the effects of acupuncture perceived by women are largely due to placebo,” study co-author Dr. Edzard Ernst of Peninsula Medical School in England said in a statement.

The study was published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Meanwhile, an Iraqi anesthesiologist dealing with extreme shortages of medicine reported that acupuncture reduced the need for oxytocin during Caesarean-section deliveries at Baghdad’s Red Crescent Hospital for Gynecology & Obstetrics.

Dr. Lazgeen Zcherky said shortages forced anesthesiologists to use a drug called halothane during C-sections, even though it is known to relax the uterus and can cause increased bleeding. To counteract the effects of halothane, Zcherky inserted acupuncture needles into women as soon as possible after their babies were delivered. Six needles were placed in the feet and ankles at points related to uterine bleeding (SP1 and SP6) and another related to uterine contraction (BL67).

Of 200 women who received acupuncture, 45% did not need any oxytocin to counteract uterine bleeding. Another 35% required two units of the drug, 18% needed two to five units, and only 2% needed more than that.

“Without acupuncture, it had been standard for the surgeon to ask for a minimum of 10 units of oxytocin,” Zcherky wrote. “He would have preferred 20, but this was simply not available except in problem cases.”

The report appears in Thursday’s edition of the journal Acupuncture in Medicine.

— Karen Kaplan

Photo: Could acupuncture needles take some of the pain out of childbirth? Credit: Victor Drachev/AFP/Getty Images