NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Women who have acupuncture during labor and delivery are less likely to need pain medication or invasive pain relief methods such as epidurals, Danish researchers report.

“Acupuncture is a good supplement to other types of pain relief,” Dr. Lone Hvidman of Aarhus University Hospital in Skejby and colleagues conclude in the March issue of the medical journal Birth.

For their study, the researchers enrolled women who were in labor and asked for pain relief. The 603 women who gave their consent were randomly assigned to acupuncture, transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (in which electrical impulses are delivered to the lower back with two to four electrodes), or traditional pain relief such as a warm bath, nitrous oxide, epidural anesthesia, or pethidine (Demerol).

Specially trained midwives delivered the acupuncture treatment. All had completed a five-day course in obstetric acupuncture along with six months of training.

Acupuncture reduced the need for further pain relief, the team found.

Specifically, among the women who had acupuncture, 58.9 percent requested pharmacological or invasive pain relief, compared to 69.4 percent of the women who underwent TENS, and 83.2 percent of the women in the traditional pain relief group, the researchers found.

In the acupuncture group, 59 percent said the technique gave them at least some pain relief, 55 percent said it was somewhat or very calming, and 53 percent said they would use acupuncture for future deliveries.

Among women who had TENS, 34 percent said it relieved pain, 23 percent said it was calming, and 18 percent said they would use it again.

There was also a tendency for the women who received acupuncture to feel more relaxed and in control than the women in the other two groups.

Acupuncture is effective, the researchers conclude, and could realistically be used in maternity wards by trained midwives.

SOURCE: Birth, March 2009.