Relationship between complementary and alternative medicine use and incidence of adverse birth outcomes: an examination of a nationally representative sample of 1835 Australian women

Midwifery. 2014 Dec;30(12):1157-65. doi: 10.1016/j.midw.2014.03.015. Epub 2014 Mar 29.


Objective: there is evidence of high use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) by pregnant women. Despite debate and controversy regarding CAM use in pregnancy there has been little research focus upon the impacts of CAM use on birth outcomes. This paper reports findings outlining the incidence of adverse birth outcomes among women accessing CAM during pregnancy.

Design: a survey-based cohort sub-study from the nationally-representative Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health (ALSWH) was undertaken in 2010.

Participants: women (aged 31-36 years) who identified in 2009 as pregnant or recently given birth (n=2445) from the younger cohort (n=8012) of ALSWH were recruited for the study.

Measurements and findings: participants' responses were analysed to examine the relationship between use of CAM and adverse birth outcomes from their most recent pregnancy. Of the respondents (n=1835; 79.2%), there were variations in birth outcomes for the women who used different CAM. Notably, the outcome which was most commonly associated with CAM use was emotional distress. This was found to occur more commonly in women who practised meditation/yoga at home, used flower essences, or consulted with a chiropractor. In contrast, women who consulted with a chiropractor or consumed herbal teas were less likely to report a premature birth, whilst participation in yoga classes was associated with an increased incidence of post partum/intrapartum haemorrhage.

Key conclusions: the results emphasise the necessity for further research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of CAM for pregnant women, with a particular focus on birth outcomes.

Implications for practice: health professionals providing care need to be aware of the potential birth outcomes associated with CAM use during pregnancy to enable the provision of accurate information to women in their care, and to assist in safely supporting women accessing CAM to assist with pregnancy, labour and birth.

Keywords: Alternative medicine; Birth outcomes; Complementary medicine; Labour; Pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Beverages / adverse effects*
  • Beverages / statistics & numerical data
  • Delivery, Obstetric* / adverse effects
  • Delivery, Obstetric* / methods
  • Delivery, Obstetric* / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Manipulation, Chiropractic / adverse effects*
  • Manipulation, Chiropractic / methods
  • Natural Childbirth / adverse effects*
  • Natural Childbirth / statistics & numerical data
  • Postpartum Hemorrhage* / epidemiology
  • Postpartum Hemorrhage* / etiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome / epidemiology
  • Premature Birth* / epidemiology
  • Premature Birth* / etiology
  • Stress, Psychological* / epidemiology
  • Stress, Psychological* / etiology
  • Yoga*