Labor Medications: How Can They Affect Your Baby?

I am 29 weeks pregnant. I am wondering what drugs are available and how they might affect my baby?


Peg Plumbo CNM

Peg Plumbo has been a certified nurse-midwife (CNM) since 1976. She has assisted at over 1,000 births and currently teaches in the... Read more

I'd love to expound on all of the drugs used for labor and delivery but books have been written on this topic. In addition, medications vary by locality and differ greatly depending upon the medical center you choose and the type of care provider. I do have some general guidelines, however.

All drugs cross the placenta to the baby, and therefore it makes sense to use them only when necessary, and in the smallest yet the most effective dosages. Nubain and Demerol, for example, are common medications to give in labor. They are given in small dosages but they do tend to decrease the effort of the uterus and they may make the baby sleepy if given too close to the delivery.

Breastfeeding studies have demonstrated that the sucking reflex is also decreased with the use of labor pain medications.

Intrathecal morphine is a newer system of pain relief which is gaining wider acceptance. Morphine is instilled through a catheter into the space next to, but not within, the spinal cord in the lumbar region. Fetal effects are minimal and the mother attains excellent pain relief without losing uterine effort while still maintaining the pushing reflex. Side effects include itching and nausea in some clients.

It would be wise to find out the typical methods and medications of pain relief offered by your provider and see what input you as a client have in the decision. For example, if your physician advocates the use of epidurals, the chances of his or her clients getting one in labor is quite high. Women in labor are very vulnerable and many will go along with whatever their provider thinks is best. It is best to make some general decisions ahead of time and see what you doctor thinks of your plan.

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