Aim: Pharmacological labor induction is obtained through intracervical/vaginal prostaglandins and/or oxytocin infusion; however, the use of these agents produces fetal and maternal side effects. Traditional Chinese medicine advocates the use of acupuncture to soften the cervix and induce uterine contractions. The aim of the present study is to investigate the effect of acupuncture to induce labor. Acupuncture was applied in post-date pregnancies one week before a planned induction; the primary outcome was the rate of women submitted to labor induction for prolonged pregnancy at week 41 + 5.
Methods: After informed consent, 221 undelivered women ranging between 40 + 2/40 + 6 gestational age were considered eligible for the study and 202 were randomized to receive acupuncture or observation. Sessions of acupuncture were planned every odd day from the randomization till 41a week plus 4 days. At 41 + 5 week a pharmacological induction of labor was planned.
Results: The total rate of labor induction did not significantly differ between observation and acupuncture group (20% versus 17%). Moreover no differences were found as far as the indications to induce labor, in particular "prolonged pregnancy" was similar between groups (8/96 versus 5/99). To investigate between-group differences in time elapsed between inclusion and delivery, survival analysis was performed excluding women requiring labor induction: women receiving acupuncture showed a trend to deliver earlier than women in the observation group (p < 0.09).
Conclusion: The present study demonstrated that acupuncture applied every odd day for one week seems ineffective in reducing the rate of labor induction performed for prolonged pregnancy at 41 + 5 weeks. Previous reports reached similar conclusions, independently of the different timing, duration and mode of stimuli application.
Keywords: Acupuncture; labor induction; post-date pregnancy.