Childbirth: Opioid Pain Medicines

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Childbirth: Opioid Pain Medicines

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To help control labour 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 labour. 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.



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


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Donald Sproule, MD, CM, CCFP, FCFP - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kirtly Jones, MD, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Last Revised February 18, 2010

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