Background: Many women need some kind of analgesic treatment to relieve pain during childbirth. The objective of our study was to compare the effect of acupuncture with transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS) and traditional analgesics for pain relief and relaxation during delivery with respect to pain intensity, birth experience, and obstetric outcome.
Methods: A randomized controlled trial was conducted with 607 healthy women in labor at term who received acupuncture, TENS, or traditional analgesics. Primary outcomes were the need for pharmacological and invasive methods, level of pain assessed by a visual analogue scale, birth experience and satisfaction with delivery, and pain relief evaluated at 2 months postpartum. Secondary obstetric outcomes were duration of labor, use of oxytocin, mode of delivery, postpartum hemorrhage, Apgar score, and umbilical cord pH value. Analysis complied with the intention-to-treat principle.
Results: Use of pharmacological and invasive methods was significantly lower in the acupuncture group (acupuncture vs traditional, p < 0.001; acupuncture vs TENS, p = 0.031). Pain scores were comparable. Acupuncture did not influence the duration of labor or the use of oxytocin. Mean Apgar score at 5 minutes and umbilical cord pH value were significantly higher among infants in the acupuncture group compared with infants in the other groups.
Conclusions: Acupuncture reduced the need for pharmacological and invasive methods during delivery. Acupuncture is a good supplement to existing pain relief methods.