Giving birth, as beautiful an experience as it is; comes with its attendant pains.
For most women, as the delivery day approach, they have anxiety sometimes due to anticipated pain and discomfort — this, the medical field has done its best to navigate by searching for pain relief methods suitable for labour.
Although epidurals and pain medications exist, they can definitely be improved upon. Now, a recent study has found that a new pain relief drug could reduce the need for epidurals during childbirth.
Currently, Pethidine is the most commonly used pain relief drug during labour, and this is according to the The Independent, which noted that, in the United Kingdom, pethidine is given to more than a quarter of a million women in labour each year — those numbers however increase when it is considered worldwide.
Now, something being common doesn’t necessarily guarantee that it’s the best.
In a new study originally published in The Lancet, according to Eureka Alert, researchers examined the benefits of a different pain medication called Remifentanil, which is rarely offered during labour, presently.
Researchers were motivated to pursue new avenues for pain relief simply because pethidine does not always cut it, according to The Independent. When the first avenue for pain relief is inadequate, many women in labour have no choice but to turn to epidurals.
By examining 400 women over the age of 16 who were giving birth after 16 weeks and requesting opioid pain relief, researchers came to some pretty impressive results. Remifentanil actually halved the number of women requesting epidurals, according to The Independent.
An epidural is a pain relieving injection that goes into the “epidural space,” located right outside of the membrane protecting your spinal cord. The most common type of epidural, as noted by WebMD, is the nerve block.
Essentially, it’s a form of anesthesia given by doctors to numb spinal nerves and prevent pain signals from traveling to your brain.
Epidurals have their benefits, but of course; carry their own risks as well. As outlined by the Mayo Clinic, some side effects of an epidural include:
- postpartum back pain and soreness
- fever or itchiness
- breathing difficulties
- drop in blood pressure, which can slow down the baby’s heart rate
- persistent bleeding (from puncture site) and you are likely unable to walk during labor.
“Previous studies have shown that at least one in three women given pethidine to manage pain during labour require a subsequent epidural as the drug is not always effective,” Dr. Matthew Wilson, lead author of the study explained in a press release for the research.
During the trial, half of the women involved were given remifentanil during labor, according to Science Daily. They were able to administer the pain relief themselves by pressing a hand held device. The other half, given pethidine, were administered injections up to every four hours.
In addition, all women in the trial received one-to-one care from a midwife, according to Science Daily. Their breathing rates, sedation, pain ratings, and oxygen levels were checked every 30 minutes, as Science Daily reported.
Throughout the trial, women could request an epidural at any time, and the other forms of pain relief were halted if one was given.
At the end, about 19% of women in the remifentanil group went on to have an epidural — compared to the 41% in the pethidine group. In addition, Science Daily noted that women in the remifentanil group were less likely to need forceps and vacuum during labour, at 15% compared to the pethidine group’s 26%.
The only concern now is remifentanil was associated with twice as many mothers having low oxygen levels than pethidine (14% compared to 5%), according to Science Daily. However, as the research noted, this didn’t have any negative effects on either the mother or her baby.
Researchers still need further studies to fully look into the benefits and possible risks associated with remifentanil. But, for now, the study’s findings suggests positive growth in the future.
There’s no way to completely eliminate pain from the birthing process but, hopefully, the methods for pain relief will continue to improve.