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Pain Relief - Pethidine


Labour and childbirth is usually a painful experience and women vary in their response to it. Some women wish to avoid drugs or other medical interventions, while others are happy to consider all available options. It is a good idea to be aware of all your alternatives and the different methods of pain relief in order to make an informed decision.


The below article looks at pethidine as a form of pain relief.


What is pethidine?


Pethidine is a strong painkilling drug with anti-spasmodic properties to promote relaxation. It's an opiate drug (derived from the opium or poppy plant) and is a synthetic version of morphine.


Because pethidine can make you feel sick, anti-nausea medications are usually administered at the same time.


Pethidine during labour is usually administered by intramuscular injection into the buttock. It may also be administered intravenously (directly into a vein).


While it pays to remember that the effects of any drug will vary from person to person, generally, the effect of pethidine lasts around two to four hours.

When should I have pethidine?


Pethidine is administered during the first stage of labour before you start pushing, when your cervix is opening up to 10cm dilated. You shouldn't have pethidine if your midwife thinks you're close to giving birth because it may not be good for your baby. What are the advantages of pethidine?

  • It can be administered by a midwife, there's no need to wait for a doctor.

  • It takes effect quickly.

  • It can help you to relax.

  • It won't slow down your labour, if you're already in established labour.

  • It may help you to postpone or avoid having an epidural if you're finding your contractions hard to cope with.

  • You can still use a birthing pool or bath during labour, but not within two hours of a dose of pethidine, or if you feel drowsy.

What are the disadvantages of pethidine?

  • It provides only limited relief from labour pain, and in some cases no relief

  • You may experience respiratory depression, whereby your breathing may be reduced.

  • One in three people find opiate drugs such as pethidine unpleasant.

  • It may make you feel drowsy.

  • It can make you feel sick or vomit, even if you have an anti-sickness drug.

  • Pethidine may make you feel dizzy or you may possibly feel elated, or depressed.

What are the possible effects of pethidine on my baby?

  • Pethidine may affect your baby's breathing and making them drowsy for several days, particularly if your birth progresses more quickly than expected and baby is born within two hours of the drug being administered.

  • It may be more difficult to get breastfeeding started because the drug may affect your baby's rooting and sucking reflexes.

  • Because your unborn baby is exposed to the drug via the umbilical cord, it may experience respiratory depression at birth, particularly if several doses are given or the baby delivers soon after a pethidine injection. This effect can be reversed by an injection given to the baby.

Useful tips for pethidine:

  • Prior to having pethidine, remember to ask for a vaginal examination to see how far your cervix has dilated. If you are further on than you thought, you might decide you don't need it after all.

  • Pethidine can be administered in either in 50mg or 100mg doses with repeat doses between one and three hours if it isn't having an effect. If you are easily affected by medications ask for a small dose to begin with.

  • It will take 20 minutes to feel the effects, so use your breathing techniques to help until the drug kicks in.

  • Pethidine is not recommended if you have taken certain antidepressants in the few weeks prior to labour.

  • After the birth, be patient with your baby, and yourself. Pethidine takes a couple of days to completely leave baby’s system, and with time baby will get the hang of breastfeeding.



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