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Acupuncture May Help Prevent Cesarean Births


Women who receive acupuncture during pregnancy are less likely to have a cesarean birth, according to several studies. A review of the research on the use of acupuncture during pregnancy and its impact on the rate of cesarean births, the need for epidurals, the number of inductions, and other factors are being presented at a workshop in Vancouver, Canada, on October 13 and 14.

In 1965, the rate of cesarean births in the United States was 4.5 percent. Yet in December 2007, the National Center for Health Statistics reported that the cesarean delivery rate in the United States for 2006 was 31.1 percent. This rate exceeds the rate in Canada, which reports that nearly 28 percent of the infants born in that country in 2007 and 2008 were by cesarean.

According to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC), 20 percent fewer cesarean births would occur if doctors and hospitals followed guidelines designed to reduce unnecessary surgeries and if women had support during labor. Several studies show that acupuncture performed during pregnancy may help with this effort.

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For example, in a randomized, controlled trial of acupuncture in first-time mothers, researchers evaluated 56 women who were randomly assigned to either a control group (no acupuncture) or three outpatient acupuncture treatments during pregnancy. Compared with the control group, women in the acupuncture group were more likely to labor spontaneously (70% vs 50%) and less likely to have a cesarean birth (39% vs 17%).

Cesarean births are associated with considerable morbidity in both women and their infants, as well as significant costs to the health care system. The most common complications after cesarean birth for women are infection, heavy blood loss, blood clots, nausea, vomiting, and severe headache. Maternal death, though rare, is three times more likely after cesarean births (18 per 100,000) than vaginal deliveries (6 per 100,000). Recovery time after cesarean delivery is 4 to 6 weeks compared with 1 to 2 weeks for vaginal delivery.)

Risks for infants after cesarean birth include injury during delivery, immature lung function (if the infant is delivered before 39 weeks of gestation, and need for special care in the neonatal intensive care unit. There is also some evidence that children born by cesarean section and whose parents have allergies are about twice as likely to develop allergies.

According to Debra Betts, an international expert on acupuncture and author of Essential Acupuncture for Pregnancy and Childbirth, acupuncture delivered during pregnancy can reduce nausea, high blood pressure, and back pain, and can naturally induce labor, thus reducing cesarean births. Betts is presenting the workshop on acupuncture and cesarean births and related information in Vancouver.

Cunningham FG et al. “Cesarean delivery and peripartum hysterectomy. In Williams, Obstetrics 22nd ed. 2005
Harper TC et al. Journal of Maternal Fetal Neonatal Medicine 2006 Aug; 19(8): 465-70
Kolas T et al. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 2006; 195(6): 1538-43.
News-Medical.net October 9, 2009
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