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Many women use some type of method to deal with pain during childbirth. As you prepare for your labor experience, it is important to become educated on different pain medications, how they work, and the risks and benefits. Which method you decide to use (if any at all) depends on your preference, your health care provider’s recommendations, and the availability at your birthing facility.

What are narcotics?

Narcotics are a type of analgesic given to relieve pain. When used during childbirth, narcotics are considered the next step 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 early stages of labor in an attempt to avoid potential side effects for the mother and baby.

What are the advantages of taking narcotics during childbirth?

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 may help to reduce anxiety and improve the ability to cope with painful contractions.

What are the potential side effects of narcotics?

Narcotics may have the following side effects on the mother:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Itching
  • Dizziness
  • Sedation
  • Decreased gastric motility
  • Loss of protective airway reflexes

Hypoxia due to respiratory depression

How will the narcotics affect my baby?

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:

  • Central nervous system depression
  • Respiratory depression
  • Impaired early breastfeeding
  • Altered neurological behavior
  • Decreased ability to regulate body temperature

For these reasons, your baby may need medication to counteract the narcotic effects. Naloxone is a medication that when given in small doses can reverse the respiratory depression that narcotics may cause in the baby. This drug is usually given intravenously to your baby. The effects of naloxone can be seen within a few minutes and can last up to 2 hours.


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