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Learn about the pros and cons of using systemic medication to ease labor pain.
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Linda Murray: Systemic medication such as narcotics, which dull your pain—these drugs are called systemic because they affect your whole body. They're usually delivered through an IV or an injection, which can be done pretty quickly, isn't very invasive, and doesn't require an anesthesiologist. This means many birth centers can offer some form of systemic medication for pain relief. The narcotics commonly used for labor in the United States include Demerol, Stadol, Nubain, and Fentanyl.
Systemic drugs ease your pain and take the edge off so you can relax a bit, but they can also make you sleepy or dizzy. Because they're delivered through your bloodstream, they can cross the placenta to your baby. After you get these drugs, you may have to stay in bed at least until it's clear you can move around safely. These drugs can be preferable to an epidural because they don't make you more likely to need other medical interventions later in labor and they don't interfere with your ability to push. Still, many women who start with systemic narcotics also use an epidural later; some may have planned from the beginning to get an epidural and some decide along the way that they need stronger pain relief. About 1 out of 5 women who use pain medication during labor use systemic narcotics.
Mom 1: I took just some narcotics, Fentanyl, and I'd never had an IV before, and I'd certainly never had IV pain killers before, so I was, "How fast is this going to work?" and they said, "Pretty fast." "Oh yeah, hello."
Mom 2: They first gave me an IV pain medication, which I was not real happy about, but they didn't want to immediately do an epidural, so that was my only choice at the time, and after that, I think that was probably about a half hour of that, it did almost nothing.
Mom 3: "Maybe let's try to give you Fentanyl, which is an IV like an intravenous drug," and so we did that and literally the thing lasted for 15 minutes, I had 15 minutes of relief where I was kind of nauseous the whole time and then that was it.