Opioids (narcotics) for childbirth

To help control labor pain and stress, an injection of pain medication can be given into a vein (intravenous) or into the muscle (intramuscular). The most common pain medications used are opioids. Opioids are also known as narcotics. Examples of opioids include nalbuphine (Nubain), meperidine (Demerol), fentanyl, and morphine.

An opioid can help you relax between contractions and decrease the pain but does not take the pain away completely. Opioids make you drowsy for a short time and can slow your labor. But opioids are less likely than epidural anesthesia to cause you to have a forceps or vacuum delivery.1

The most common side effects of opioids include drowsiness, nausea, and vomiting.

Opioids are usually used well before delivery, because they can affect a newborn's breathing. Opioids given right before delivery can also make the baby sleepy and less interested in breast-feeding.

Citations

  1. Cunningham FG, et al. (2005). Forceps delivery and vacuum extraction. In Williams Obstetrics, 22nd ed., pp. 547–563. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Last Updated: December 4, 2009

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