Drug-free pain relief for labour ineffective?

Lack of evidence means pregnant women are left in the dark about alternative pain relief


The effectiveness of drug-free pain relief during labour has been called into question by a new study.


Researchers have claimed that these alternative methods of pain relief are under-explored and said there is little evidence to suggest they work.

The study, carried out by the Department of Women’s and Children’s Health at the University of Liverpool, involved 18 previous studies of pain relief in labour. The results demonstrated that many options offered to mums have very little evidence to explain whether they will actually work and if they do work, whether there’ll be noticeable side effects.

Painkilling drug treatments such as epidurals, combined spinal epidurals and inhalation were deemed by researches to come under the heading ‘what works’. Treatments such as water immersion, relaxation and acupuncture came under the title ‘may work’. The least supported, dubbed the ‘insufficient evidence’ category, included hypnosis and aromatherapy.

While researchers call for more research into the alternative therapies, the study also found that the group deemed to be most effective at pain lulling – ‘what works’, actually had the most evidence of causing adverse side effects, including vomiting. The treatments that ‘may work’ received the least complaints of discomfort for mums.

Ultimately researchers want mums to have as much info as possible so they can make an informed decision. Lead author James Neilson said, “It remains important to tailor approaches to women’s individual needs and circumstances.”


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