Acupuncture does not seem to help relieve labour pain, a review of clinical trials concludes.

Researchers from South Korea and Britain examined data from 10 clinical trials from Europe, China and Iran involving 2,038 women.

"In this review, acupuncture did not seem to have any impact on other maternal or fetal outcomes, nor was it associated with harm," study author Hyangsook Lee, from the Acupuncture and Meridian Science Research Center at Kyung Hee University, said in a journal release.

"However, there was no convincing evidence that women receiving acupuncture experience less labour pain than those in the control groups. Acupuncture might reduce the use of other forms of pain relief such as meperidine [a synthetic opiate also known as Demerol], but the evidence is limited. To summarize, the current evidence does not appear to recommend the use of acupuncture for labour pain."

Labour is a good subject to study the analgesic or pain relieving effects of acupuncture, said co-author Prof. Edzard Ernst of Peninsula Medical School at the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth.

"Our analyses show that the effects of acupuncture perceived by women are largely due to placebo. Acupuncture has many qualities that maximize placebo effects," such as touch and psychological attachment to mysticism, Ernst said.

Pain is subjective response and acupuncture is a drug-free approach, said Prof. Philip Steer, editor in chief of BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, which published the study.

In contrast to the lack of evidence supporting use of acupuncture, there is good evidence of benefit from emotional support during labour. "We should concentrate our efforts on making sure that all women have the benefit of one to one care at this crucial time," Steer said.

Acupuncture has been used as a form of pain relief in China for at least 2,600 years.