Water injections could be used to relieve labour pains

The effectiveness of using sterile water injections for labour contraction pain will be tested by an international collaboration of researchers, thanks to federal funding.

The Commonwealth Government’s Medical Research Future Fund has granted more than $300 thousand to the two-year project, run by The University of Queensland, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, Charles Darwin University and University of Skövde.

Dr Nigel Lee from UQ’s School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work said the aim was to produce a safe, efficacious, cost-effective and ’bedside ready’ procedure offering a new alternative for pain relief in labour.

"The pharmacological options for pain relief in labour haven’t really changed in 50 years," Dr Lee said.

"Both opioids and nitrous oxide have been reported as having a limited effect on labour pain and have undesirable side effects.

"Epidurals provide excellent pain relief but severely limit mobility in labour, require close monitoring of mother and baby and can increase the risk of further medical interventions in birth.

"What is urgently needed is pharmacological pain relief that has few side effects and supports the other strategies women may use to cope with labour.

"The trial will use a randomised, double blind, placebo-controlled design to test the safety and analgesic effectiveness of water injections given into the skin to relieve labour contraction pain."

The research team last year published a large international trial that provided evidence of the effectiveness of water injections to relieve back pain in labour.

More than one thousand women with severe labour back pain were given either water injections of less than half a milliliter or a placebo of saline solution into the skin of their lower back.

"We found twice as many of the women who received the water injections reported their pain reduced by at least half, for 90 minutes or longer and the injections can be repeated with no side effects," Dr Lee said.

"However, the water injections given for labour back pain had no effect on the normal abdominal contraction pain.

"We now want to see if similar injections into the abdominal skin of labouring women will relieve the normal contraction pain.

"Water injections can result in brief but significant pain, which may deter initial or repeated use, so we will use a skin freezing spray to reduce the injection discomfort.

"There are many benefits for using water injections, including when there is limited or no access to pain relief during childbirth, such as home birth and in countries with developing health systems."

The trial will begin in early 2022 at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.


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