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IV Medications for Pain in Labor

Narcotics: Demerol, Stadol, Nubain


Updated June 30, 2014

female medical assistant is preparing an infusion
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Since the advent of the epidural and other forms of anesthesia many women have forgotten about the use of intravenous (IV) medications for the relief of pain in labor. These medications are given through an IV port or Saline lock or sometimes by intramuscular (IM) injection. The most common forms of these medications are: Stadol, Demerol and Nubain. Though there are others that can be used.

Unlike epidural anesthesia that causes an area of your body to become numb, typically the area between your breasts and knees, IV medications promote relaxation and reduce the sensation of pain. Many women report that the feeling of the IV medication is that you feel sleepy or as if you've had a drink of an alcoholic beverage. These medications can help you relax to focus on coping with the contractions of labor, it does not completely take away all sensation.

With the IV medications you may be confined to bed for a short period of time or longer, depending on the medication given, your reaction to the medication and hospital policy. However, you will be able to feel your body and work with it, for example you will be able to feel to push and you will be able to assume other positions that you probably wouldn't be able to assume with an epidural. Many women really enjoy having this feeling of control over their bodies.

The timing of the IV medication is the biggest factor in its use. It can be used prior to administration of the epidural in some cases, since it takes effect more quickly and does not require that an anesthesiologist be present for administration. Usually the attending OB or midwife will leave an order on your labor chart for this administration without a separate phone call to the doctor. If given too early this medication can actually, as many medications, slow labor down. If given too late it can cause potential breathing problems for the baby. Talk to your practitioner about how and when they use IV medications.

The most common side effect of the IV medication is that some women notice a feeling of nausea and/or vomiting. This can be counter acted with a medication called Phenergan. This medication is also known to make you feel sleepy. IV medications can also, as other medications, cause problems for the baby's heart rate and your labor pattern. You will be closely monitored as will your baby after the administration of medications.

IV medications are another tool to add to your bag of tricks to take with you in labor. They can be the perfect answer for someone who doesn't wish to have an epidural, can't have an epidural or needs to delay the use of an epidural. Be sure to talk to your midwife or doctor about other side effects and potential benefits to the use of IV medications in your labor and birth.

Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. Gabbe, S, Niebyl, J, Simpson, JL. Fifth Edition.

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