Many women choose to use some type of method to deal with pain during childbirth. As you prepare for your labor experience it is important to become educated ahead of time on what different pain medications are available, how they work, as well as what the risks and benefits are. What you decide to use (if any at all) depends on your preference, your doctor’s recommendations, and what is available at your birthing facility.
Narcotics are a type of analgesic given to relieve pain. When used during childbirth, narcotics are considered the next step up from the less invasive or “natural” methods of pain relief such as laboring in water, deep breathing, and massage. Narcotics are given in small doses and usually during the beginning stages of labor in an attempt to avoid potential side effects for the mother and baby.
Narcotics offer pain relief and do not interfere with a woman’s ability to push during labor. Unlike an epidural, a narcotic does not “numb” the pain but instead it helps to take the “edge” off. Narcotics help to reduce anxiety and improve the ability to cope with painful contractions.
Narcotics may have the following side effects on the mother:
Throughout pregnancy, you were probably aware that medications you consumed could potentially affect your baby. Narcotics also cross the placenta during labor and can cause the following side effects to your baby:
For these reasons, having medication to counteract the narcotic is essential for your baby. Naloxone is a medication that when given in small doses can reverse the respiratory depression that narcotics cause without creating more problems. This drug may be given intravenously, through the muscle, or through an endotracheal tube (small opening in the throat) to your baby. The effects of Naloxone can be seen within a few minutes and can last as long as 2 hours.
The most frequently used Narcotic medications are:
Demerol: Demerol is a popular choice for pain relief during labor. Demerol alters how you recognize the pain you are experiencing by binding to the receptors found in your central nervous system. The advantages of Demerol include:
How can Demerol affect my baby or myself?
Demerol can cause drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, respiratory depression, and maternal hypertension (low blood pressure). If injected within five hours of delivery, Demerol has been found to cause breathing difficulties in babies.
Morphine: In recent years, morphine has not been routinely used as a method of pain relief during labor because it has been found to depress the baby’s ability to breathe.
Stadol: Stadol has been found to relieve pain when given in the first stage of labor. This narcotic is also considered more potent than morphine and Demerol. It is usually given intravenously in small doses, usually 1 to 2 mg. The advantages of using Stadol include:
How can Stadol affect my baby or myself?
Stadol can cause the mother to have respiratory depression and a dysphoric reaction (a state of feeling well and unhappy).