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Objective To investigate acupuncture treatment during labour with regard to pain intensity, degree of relaxation and outcome of the delivery.

Design Randomised controlled trial.

Setting Delivery ward at a tertiary care centre hospital in Sweden.

Population Ninety parturients who delivered during the period April 12, 1999 and June 4, 2000.

Methods Forty-six parturients were randomised to receive acupuncture treatment during labour as a compliment, or an alternative, to conventional analgesia.

Main outcome measures Assessments of pain intensity and degree of relaxation during labour, together with evaluation of delivery outcome.

Results Acupuncture treatment during labour significantly reduced the need of epidural analgesia (12%vs 22%, relative risk [RR] 0.52, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.30 to 0.92). Parturients who received acupuncture assessed a significantly better degree of relaxation compared with the control group (mean difference −0.93, 95% CI −1.66 to −0.20). No negative effects of acupuncture given during labour were found in relation to delivery outcome.

Conclusions The results suggest that acupuncture could be a good alternative or complement to those parturients who seek an alternative to pharmacological analgesia in childbirth. Further trials with a larger number of patients are required to clarify if the main effect of acupuncture during labour is analgesic or relaxing.