A complementary medicine antenatal education course provided to expecting mothers might contribute to safer birthing outcomes.

In recent years, there has been an increase in the rate of interventions performed during labour and delivery in many developed countries. These rates are higher in Australia compared to a number of other countries.

With the increase in rate of interventions during birthing comes an increase in the rate of caesarean and forceps’ deliveries and associated risks for both mother and baby.

Childbirth education strategies have been successful in increasing a mother’s self-confidence and sense of control over the birthing process but may not have had a significant impact on reducing pain and complications.

Various complementary therapies have been espoused to assist with reducing pain during childbirth, however they have varying degrees of evidence backing them. It’s crucial to ensure that all therapies and medicines engaged with whilst pregnant or during childbirth are evidence- based to avoid unwanted complications to mother and baby.

Researchers investigated the effectiveness of a complementary medicine antenatal education course for mothers giving birth to control pain and reduce the use of epidural block (EDB).

Participants were first-time mothers with a low risk pregnancy recruited from sites in Sydney. They were eligible to participate from 24 to 34 weeks gestation.

Women and their partners in the intervention group received complementary therapies for labour and birth in addition to usual care, while the control group just received usual care. The intervention was designed to increase relaxation, facilitate labour progression and assist pain relief.

The tools utilised in the intervention were visualisation, yoga postures, breathing techniques, massage, acupressure and facilitated partner support. Usual care consisted of typical hospital-based antenatal education course.

The outcomes assessed by researchers included rate of epidural use for pain relief, utilisation of other pain relief methods, length of labour, type of delivery, trauma level and other birth outcomes.

Women receiving the complementary therapy in addition to usual care had a significant reduction in epidural rates compared to those receiving usual care only.

The intervention group also showed increased rates of normal vaginal birth without surgical intervention, less trauma, and reduced length of second stage labour.

Implications

These findings suggest there may be some merit to combining typical antenatal education with evidence-based complementary medicine techniques to reduce EDB use for pain relief and minimise risk of some adverse birthing outcomes.

Further research is needed to clarify this benefit. It’s important to remember that complementary therapies and medicines can cause harm too – so make sure that there is adequate evidence corroborating a complementary therapy or medicine before trying it and always check with your doctor first if unsure.

Last Reviewed: 11/10/2019

© Norman Swan Medical Communications.



References

Levett, K et al. Complementary therapies for labour and birth study: a randomised controlled trial of antenatal integrative medicine for pain management in labour. BMJ Open 2016 6: doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2015-010691