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22/01/2006 - Acupuncture may ease pain of childbirth.

News release:

Jeannie Torres says the pain was almost unbearable. After more than five hours in labor, she turned to the licensed acupuncturist at Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn for relief.

Almost immediately, Torres says, she began to feel better after the tiny, hair-like needles were inserted into specific "acupoints" along her body. "I was more relaxed and calm," said Torres, 17. "I would recommend it because you are not thinking about the contraction or the pain."

Torres says when the acupuncturist returned about 30 minutes later to insert needles to speed delivery, she was fully dilated and delivered a healthy baby girl last week that she named Eliza.

Acupuncture is being combined with Western medicine during labor and delivery at the hospital in the New York borough of Brooklyn in what officials there say could become a viable option to pain-relieving drugs.

Preliminary research at the hospital suggests the therapy can significantly reduce pain, shorten labor and reduce the amount of anesthesia used in an epidural procedure, in which medication is administered into the spine.

"Many people don't want medication during labor for a variety of reasons, and acupuncture provides a non-medication alternative for pain relief," said Dr. Iffath Hoskins, chairwoman of Lutheran's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

A small case-controlled pilot study at the hospital from February to September 2005 using five acupuncturists found that women who received the therapy had a lower rate of Cesareans, Citkovitz said.

The study involved 149 cases: 45 acupuncture patients and 104 matched controls. Of the 45 acupuncture patients, three had Cesarean sections, while 25 of the controls had C-sections.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services aims to reduce the number of Cesareans among low-risk women by 2010.

Acupuncture has been a traditional part of Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years. Although its effectiveness has been observed in other areas, including arthritis and back pain relief, the study, funded partially by a $60,000 grant from the state, is believed the first in the United States to observe effects on labor, hospital officials said.

"When it really works, it has dramatic results, but it is not magical for everybody," Citkovitz said. "Western medicine has gotten phenomenally good at surgery techniques and medication for when things go wrong. Acupuncture is a holistic system that tries to build on what the body is already doing right."

Article by Curtis L. Taylor / Newsday.