Danish clinicians carrying out the largest randomised controlled trial of acupuncture for relief of labour pain have found it to be a good supplement to existing pain relief methods, reducing the need for pharmacological and invasive methods during delivery. A randomised controlled trial was conducted with 607 healthy women in labour at term who received acupuncture, TENS, or traditional analgesics. Acupuncture was individualised, based on women’s mobility and localisation of pain, with points chosen from a list of 34 specified points. Although pain scores were comparable across the three groups, the use of pharmacological and invasive methods was significantly lower in the acupuncture group. Acupuncture did not influence the duration of labour or the use of oxytocin. In addition, indications of neonatal wellbeing (Apgar score and umbilical cord pH value) were significantly better among infants in the acupuncture group compared with infants in the other groups. (Acupuncture as pain relief during delivery: a randomized controlled trial. Birth. 2009 Mar;36(1):5-12).

A cohort of 4,146 pregnant Dutch women was asked about their frequency of consumption of fruit, vegetables, fish, egg, milk, milk products, nuts, and nut products during the preceding month. The children’s diets were assessed at age two years, and their asthma and allergy status was assessed yearly until eight years of age. Daily consumption of nut products by mothers during pregnancy was found to increase the risk of their children developing asthma symptoms by more than 50%, compared with women who rarely consumed nut products during pregnancy. (Maternal food consumption during pregnancy and the longitudinal development of childhood asthma. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2008 Jul 15;178(2):124-31).

Too much caffeine during pregnancy may double the risk of miscarriage. In an American cohort study, 1,063 pregnant women were interviewed about their caffeine intake. An increasing dose of daily caffeine during pregnancy was associated with an increased risk of miscarriage, compared with no caffeine intake. Of 264 women who had consumed no caffeine, 12.5% had miscarriages. The miscarriage rate was 24.5% in the 164 women who consumed 200 mg (equivalent to less than two cups of brewed coffee or four cups of black tea) or more per day. (Maternal caffeine consumption during pregnancy and the risk of miscarriage: a prospective cohort study. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2008 Mar;198(3):279.e1-8).

A meta-analysis of seven clinical trials in which acupuncture was used to support embryo transfer during IVF has concluded that it improves rates of pregnancy and live birth. Dutch and American researchers analysed results from seven clinical trials (selected as eligible from a total of 108), all published since 2002 and carried out in four Western countries. They included data on 1366 women and compared acupuncture given within one day of embryo transfer, with sham acupuncture or no additional treatment. All except one used a similar acupuncture protocol (based on Paulus et al). The analysis showed that combining real acupuncture with embryo transfer was associated with significant and clinically relevant improvements in clinical pregnancy rate. Women who underwent acupuncture were 65% more likely to have a successful embryo transfer procedure and 91% more likely to have a live birth. On the basis of ‘number needed to treat’, this means that ten women undergoing IVF would need to be treated with acupuncture to bring about one additional pregnancy. (Effects of acupuncture on rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilisation: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ. 2008 Mar 8;336(7643):545-9).

Or does it?

However, a new randomised controlled trial of acupuncture for embryo transfer support, carried out in America, found no increase in clinical pregnancy rate. The study, which involved 150 patients, also used the Paulus acupuncture point protocol and compared it with lying quietly as a control. The use of acupuncture was not associated with increased pregnancy rates, but patients who received it reported feeling relaxed and optimistic about their treatment. (The impact of acupuncture on in vitro fertilization outcome. Fertil Steril. 2008 Mar 1 [Epub ahead of print])

Researchers in the USA measured foetal responses to a guided meditation designed to induce maternal relaxation during the 32nd week of pregnancy. The 18-minute guided imagery intervention generated significant changes in maternal heart rate, skin conductance, respiration period and respiratory sinus arrhythmia. Significant alterations in foetal behaviour were also observed, including decreased foetal heart rate (FHR), increased FHR variability and suppression of foetal movement. Significant associations were found between measures of maternal stress and foetal heart patterns, between lower umbilical and uterine artery resistance and increased FHR variability, and between declining maternal salivary cortisol and foetal activity. (Fetal responses to induced maternal relaxation during pregnancy. Biol Psychol 2007 Aug 31 [Epub ahead of print]).

Intake of apples and fish by women during pregnancy may reduce the risk of their children developing atopic conditions, according to the results of a longitudinal cohort study of nearly 2000 Dutch children. Mothers completed a food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) during pregnancy, and children in the cohort were followed up at five years of age with a symptom questionnaire and FFQ. Food groups analysed were fruit, vegetables, fruit juice, whole-grain products, fish, dairy products and fat spreads. Maternal consumption of apples was found to have a protective effect on the children against asthma, while fish consumption was associated with protection against eczema. (Maternal food consumption during pregnancy and asthma, respiratory and atopic symptoms in 5-year-old children. Thorax. 2007 Sep;62(9):773-9).