Objective: To evaluate the utility of outpatient acupuncture for labor stimulation.
Methods: Nulliparous women at 39 4/7 weeks or greater with a singleton gestation and Bishop score of less than 7 were randomized to usual medical care (control group) versus usual care and three outpatient acupuncture treatments (acupuncture group). Each treatment consisted of eight needles applied to bilateral points LI4, SP6, UB31, and UB32. The primary outcome was time elapsed from the time of randomization to delivery. Secondary outcomes included rates of cesarean section and induction of labor. Medical records were abstracted for maternal demographic, medical, and delivery outcome data. A priori sample size calculation revealed that 56 women were required to detect a 72-hour difference in delivery time with a power of 83% and an alpha of 0.05. Student's t-test, Chi-square, and Kaplan-Meier statistics were used to compare groups.
Results: Fifty-six women were randomized and completed the study procedures. Race, age, gestational age, and cervical Bishop score were similar in both groups. Mean time to delivery occurred 21 hours sooner in the acupuncture group, but this difference did not reach statistical significance (p = 0.36). Compared to controls, women in the acupuncture group tended to be more likely to labor spontaneously (70% vs. 50%, p = 0.12) and less likely to deliver by cesarean section (39% vs. 17%, p = 0.07). Of women who were not induced, those in the acupuncture group were more likely to be delivered than the controls at any point after enrollment (p = 0.05).
Conclusion: Acupuncture is well tolerated among term nulliparous women and holds promise in reducing interventions that occur in post-term pregnancies.