NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Although acupuncture is promoted as a way to induce labor in women who go past their due date, a Danish study had added to evidence casting doubt on its usefulness.
Researchers from Aarhus University Hospital found that among 125 pregnant women who were past their due dates, those who were randomly assigned to undergo two acupuncture sessions were no more likely to go into labor over the next 24 hours.
Of those women, 12 percent went into labor, versus 14 percent of those who were randomly assigned to have a "sham" version of acupuncture and there no differences in other outcomes such as dilation of the cervix or the length of time it took to deliver.
"The results are very clear," said researcher Dr. Niels Uldbjerg, professor of obstetrics and gynecology. "Acupuncture as used in this trial does not induce labor in post-term pregnant women."
However Uldbjerg and his colleagues acknowledged a "more intensive" course of acupuncture could arguably have produced different results and noted many acupuncturists say the therapy must be individualized from person to person.
But the findings, reported in the obstetrics journal BJOG, add to evidence that acupuncture may not be an effective way to induce labor in "post- term" pregnancies -- those that go beyond 41 weeks.
About five percent to 10 percent of pregnant women have a post-term pregnancy, a delay that raises the risk of complications during labor. Because of this, doctors routinely induce labor when a pregnancy lasts beyond 41 weeks.
During standard labor induction, a doctor uses instruments to rupture the amniotic sac or stretch the cervix, or gives synthetic forms of prostaglandins or oxytocin -- hormones that normally help trigger labor.
Acupuncture has been promoted as an alternative. In theory, it may work by stimulating the nervous system, which in turn could cause the uterus to contract.
Uldbjerg said there is a need for alternatives in labor induction.
Many women prefer to avoid medications during pregnancy and labor, and all of the standard forms of labor induction raise a woman's odds of ultimately needing a C-section or instrument-assisted delivery, Uldbjerg noted.
However, several clinical trials in the past few years have found no benefit of acupuncture for labor induction. These latest findings add to that evidence.
"This study clearly demonstrates that acupuncture is not an alternative to (standard) methods" of labor induction, Uldbjerg told Reuters Health.
Acupuncture has been used for more than 2,000 years in Chinese medicine to treat a wide variety of ailments. According to traditional medicine, specific acupuncture points on the skin are connected to internal pathways that conduct energy, or qi ("chee"), and stimulating these points with a fine needle promotes the healthy flow of qi.
Reporting by Amy Norton of Reuters Health, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith