Acupuncture for induction of labour

There is insufficient evidence describing the efficacy of acupuncture to induce labour.

Sometimes it is necessary to bring on labour artificially because of safety concerns for the mother or baby. Induction of labour (getting labour started artificially) is common when the pregnancy is posing a risk. Various methods of preparing the cervix of the uterus and inducing labour are available to the pregnant woman or her unborn child. Some women look to complementary therapies during pregnancy and childbirth to be used alongside conventional medical practice.

Acupuncture is the insertion of fine needles into specific points of the body and has been used to help ripen the cervix, induce labour and reduce labour pains. The review included 14 trials with data reporting on 2220 women randomised to receive acupuncture compared with sham acupuncture or usual care. Most trials were from Western countries, with only two from Asia. The evidence regarding the clinical effectiveness of this technique was limited. No trial reported on vaginal delivery not achieved within 24 hours, uterine hyperstimulation with fetal heart rate changes, and serious maternal illness or death. Caesarean deliveries and neonatal seizures were no different. The trials used different acupuncture points, number of treatments and methods of acupuncture, (manual or electro-acupuncture). More research is needed.

Authors' conclusions: 

Overall, there have been few studies assessing the role of acupuncture for induction of labour. Before implications for clinical practice can be made there is a need for well-designed randomised controlled trials to evaluate the role of acupuncture to induce labour and for trials to assess clinically meaningful outcomes.

Read the full abstract...
Background: 

This is one of a series of reviews of methods of cervical ripening and labour induction using standardised methodology. The use of complementary therapies is increasing and some women look to complementary therapies during pregnancy and childbirth to be used alongside conventional medical practice. Acupuncture involves the insertion of very fine needles into specific points of the body. The limited observational studies to date suggest acupuncture for induction of labour appears safe, has no known adverse effects to the fetus, and may be effective. However, the evidence regarding the clinical effectiveness of this technique is limited.

Objectives: 

To determine the effectiveness and safety of acupuncture for third trimester cervical ripening or induction of labour.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register (23 November 2012), PubMed (1966 to 23 November 2012), Embase (1980 to 23 November 2012), Dissertation Abstracts (1861 to 23 November 2012), CINAHL (1982 to 23 November 2012), the WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Portal (ICTRP) (23 November 2012) and bibliographies of relevant papers.

Selection criteria: 

Clinical trials comparing acupuncture used for third trimester cervical ripening or labour induction with placebo/no treatment or other methods listed above it on a predefined list of labour induction methods.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently assessed trials for inclusion, evaluated methodological quality and extracted data.

Main results: 

The original review included three trials and seven trials were excluded. This updated review includes 14 trials, and excludes eight trials. Three trials previously excluded due to no clinically relevant outcomes are now included. Eight new trials were included, and four new trials were excluded. We included 14 trials with data reporting on 2220 women.

Trials reported on three primary outcomes only caesarean section, serious neonatal morbidity and maternal mortality. No trial reported on vaginal delivery not achieved within 24 hours; and uterine hyperstimulation with fetal heart rate (FHR) changes. There was no difference in caesarean deliveries between acupuncture and the sham control (average risk ratio (RR) 0.95, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.69 to 1.30, six trials, 654 women), and acupuncture versus usual care (average RR 0.69, 95% CI 0.40, 1.20, six trials, 361 women). There was no difference in neonatal seizures between acupuncture and the sham group (RR 1.01, 95% CI 0.06 to 16.04, one trial, 364 women).

There was some evidence of a change in cervical maturation for women receiving acupuncture compared with the sham control, (mean difference (MD) 0.40. 95%CI 0.11 to 0.69, one trial, 125 women), and when compared with usual care (MD 1.30, 95% CI 0.11 to 2.49, one trial, 67 women). The length of labour was shorter in the usual care group compared with acupuncture (average standardised mean difference (SMD) 0.67, 95% CI 0.18 to 1.17, one trial 68 women). There were no other statistically significant differences between groups. Few studies reported on many clinically relevant outcomes. One trial was at a low risk of bias on all domains.