SOME DOCTORS swear by their stethoscopes, but acupuncturist Jen Kearns prefers her Garmin GPS. As the founder of PDX Acu-Birth, Portland’s only 24-hour, on-call acupuncture service for women in labor, the 33-year-old makes it her business to know the fastest routes to area hospitals.

“Our goal is to get to the patient in 45 minutes,” says Kearns, whose network of 10 acupuncturists has helped to deliver 25 babies since the organization was founded in January. “We want to get to them as fast as possible to reduce the pain of childbirth and speed up the delivery process.”

Several naturopaths in Portland offer perinatal acupuncture, but Acu-Birth is the first to provide round-the-clock care delivered to wherever the patient is. Acu-Birth also recently became credentialed at all area Providence hospitals, which means the acupuncturists can work right alongside OB-GYNs and midwives during delivery without any red tape.

While playing pincushion in the middle of labor might not exactly sound inviting, acupuncture has been shown to not only reduce labor pain (by inserting needles at points in the ankles, ears, and sacrum), but also to mitigate some common labor difficulties: to induce contractions, an acupuncturist might stick a spot inside the ankle, or to turn a malpositioned baby, she might prod an area near the nail of the pinkie toe.

For the mom-about-to-be, those are some big returns, especially coming from pinpricks that are one-fifth the size of what you get with an epidural.