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Papers of the Week

Papers: 1 Apr 2023 - 7 Apr 2023


Molecular/Cellular, Neurobiology, Pharmacology/Drug Development

Abdominal/Pelvic Pain

2023 Mar 20

Am J Obstet Gynecol


Pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic options for pain relief during labor: an expert review.


Zuarez-Easton S, Erez O, Zafran N, Carmeli J, Garmi G, Salim R


Labor pain is among the most severe types of physical pain that women may experience during their lifetime. Thus, pain relief is an essential part of medical care during childbirth. Epidural analgesia is considered to be the most efficient method of pain relief during labor. Nevertheless, patient preferences, contraindications, limited availability, and technical failure may require the use of alternative pain reliving methods during labor including systemic pharmacologic agents, and nonpharmacologic methods. Nonpharmacologic methods for pain alleviation during vaginal birth have become popular over the years, either as a complement to pharmacologic agents or at times as the principal therapy. Methods such as relaxation techniques (ie, yoga, hypnosis, and music), manual techniques (ie, massage, reflexology, and shiatsu), acupuncture, birthing ball, and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation are considered safe, although the evidence supporting their effectiveness for pain relief is not as robust as it is for pharmacologic agents. Systemic pharmacologic agents are mostly administered by inhalation (nitrous oxide) or through the parenteral route. These agents include opioids such as meperidine, nalbuphine, tramadol, butorphanol, morphine, and remifentanil, and non-opioid agents such as parenteral acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Systemic pharmacologic agents suggest a diverse armamentarium of medication for pain management during labor. Their efficacy in treating pain associated with labor varies, and some continue to be used even though they have not been proven effective for pain relief. In addition, the maternal and perinatal side effects differ markedly among these agents. There is a relative abundance of data regarding the effectiveness of analgesic drugs compared with epidural, but the data regarding comparisons among the different types of alternative analgesic agents are scarce, and there is no consistency regarding the drug of choice for women who do not receive epidural pain management. This review aims to present the available data regarding the effectiveness of the different methods of relieving pain during labor other than epidural. The data presented are mainly based on recent level I evidence regarding pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic methods for pain relief during labor.