Complementary and Alternative Approaches to Pain Relief During Labor

Michel Tournaire; Anne Theau-Yonneau


Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2007;4(4):409-417. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

This review evaluated the effect of complementary and alternative medicine on pain during labor with conventional scientific methods using electronic data bases through 2006 were used. Only randomized controlled trials with outcome measures for labor pain were kept for the conclusions. Many studies did not meet the scientific inclusion criteria. According to the randomized control trials, we conclude that for the decrease of labor pain and/or reduction of the need for conventional analgesic methods: (i) There is an efficacy found for acupressure and sterile water blocks. (ii) Most results favored some efficacy for acupuncture and hydrotherapy. (iii) Studies for other complementary or alternative therapies for labor pain control have not shown their effectiveness.

Even though delivery is a natural phenomenon, it has been demonstrated that the accompanying pain is considered severe or extreme in more than half of cases. Besides conventional approaches, such as epidural analgesia, many complementary or alternative methods have been reported to reduce pain during labor and delivery. Complementary or Alternative Medicine (CAM) can be defined as theories or practices that are not part of the dominant or conventional medical system. Some of them have been reclassified as part of conventional medicine when supported by clinical experience or scientific data.[1]

These methods are popular because they emphasize the individual personality, and the interaction between mind, body and environment.[2] They are attractive to people who want to be more involved in their own care and feel that such therapies are more in harmony with their personal philosophies. The conventional medical community usually offers traditional choices of analgesia, such as epidural and intravenous drugs. Patients may have access to alternative methods, but will generally be obliged to do the relevant research themselves beforehand. Those seeking alternatives are not necessarily dissatisfied with conventional medicine, but attempt to supplement rather than replace traditional care. Quite often, users of complementary medicine do not inform the practitioners in charge of their pregnancy and delivery. There are also different expectations for the management of pain during labor according to the category of professionals. Physicians are expected to provide pharmacological therapy, whereas midwives, nurses and other auxiliaries are required to assist patients with psychological methods, and in fact use alternative approaches more often. The theoretical bases for many alternative methods derive from Eastern tradition or philosophy.

After a description of labor pain, we shall mention the conventional treatments and describe the different complementary methods applicable to labor pain.


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