Diamorphine for labour – can it help relieve labour pains?

Diamorphine – the clinical version of heroin – is sometimes given to labouring women to help with contraction pains. So how does diamorphine work? How is diamorphine injected? And what are the possible side effects? Find out here...

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There are lots of drug-based pain relief options available to you during labour – one of which you might’ve heard of is called diamorphine.

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Diamorphine is a seriously powerful opioid painkiller, and is the medicinal version of (don’t freak out) heroin.

Here’s everything you need to know about diamorphine as a form of pain relief in labour…

What is diamorphine?

Yes, technically speaking, diamorphine is the clinical name for heroin.

Diamorphine is classed as a semi-synthetic opioid drug that’s partially derived from opium poppy plants. It’s stronger than regular morphine, and is regulated just like any other painkiller you’d get in hospital.

Though it’s obviously a very addictive substance, it’s not addictive if you take it during labour.

So, you can relax if you are offered it during your childbirth. The diamorphine will really help with that, too: it’s very relaxing.

Who can have diamorphine during labour?

Most women will be able to have diamorphine during labour – though it probably won’t be offered in every hospital.

If you think you’d rather have diamorphine than, say, an epidural, spinal block or pethidine, it’s worth speaking to your midwife about availability in advance.

It’s not a given you’ll be able to have diamorphine at home, either – though speak to your midwife if you do want it during a home birth.

How is diamorphine injected?

There are 2 ways you can be given diamorphine, either via a drip in your arm or an injection in the thigh.

A typical dose will be between 5mg – 10mg, depending on the weight and size of your body.

When can you take diamorphine during labour?

You’re most likely to be offered diamorphine during the 1st stage of your labour.

This’ll be useful if your contractions are coming on really strong and you feel you need a bit of rest.

It’s less likely you’ll be offered diamorphine later in labour due to some of the possible side effects we’ve detailed below.

How effective is diamorphine as pain relief?

Diamorphine, like many of the pain relief methods we’ve discussed, isn’t a cure-all for labour pains.

We’d say it’s got a similar effectiveness to pethidine, though generally it is considered an effective, strong painkiller.

What are the possible side effects of diamorphine?

Diamorphine’s similar to pethidine in that there are a few downsides to using it. However, you’re probably going to feel a bit less nauseous or sick using diamorphine. Woo!

It does inhibit the amount of oxytocin your body’s receiving, though – which is a hormone important for labour.

Therefore, it’s likely diamorphine will slow down your labour, which in turn could cause you more pain.

Is diamorphine safe for me and my baby?

Like all opioid drugs, diamorphine ‘crosses’ to your baby. As a result, it could potentially affect or slow your baby’s breathing for a few days after they’re born.

It’s thought that this happens when the drug is given too close to delivery, and that’s why you’re likelier to have it early on.

Pain relief during labour – your options

Read more about pain relief drugs for labour:

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