Mother and Baby

The Effects Of Morphine: Labour Pain Relief Explained

Section: Labour & Birth

It may sound scary (or just what you want) but morphine-based pain relief is a popular pain reliever for labour

Morphine is an opiate pain reliever. It can take two forms – morphine and diamorphine. Neither is stronger but diamorphine works faster. Diamorphine is also known as heroin – but don’t worry, using it as a pain reliever won’t turn you into an addict!

The usual dose is an injection of between 5mg and 10mg, depending on your body size, or it can be taken intravenously from a drip. It is also possible to take it in tablet form.

When would you use morphine-based pain relief?

You will most likely be offered morphine in the first stage of labour if you need help coping with strong contractions. It is a good way of postponing or even avoiding an epidural.

While morphine can help you through contractions, it’s unlikely to be offered late in labour when it can cause breathing problems for the baby. Four hours or more has to pass before you can enter a birthing pool, though, as the drowsiness that may be caused by the morphine needs to wear off before you get even more relaxed in the water.

Not sure what labour pain relief to go for? Here are the options explained

Why morphine-based pain relief might be right for you

  • It works quickly, kicking in within 20 minutes and lasts between two and four hours.
  • It won’t slow down labour as an epidural might.

Why morphine-based pain relief might not be right for you

  • It’s not available in every hospital – check with your midwife or doctor when writing your birth plan to see if it’s available where you plan to have the baby.
  • Morphine crosses the placenta, so if given too late in labour, it may affect your baby’s breathing and cause him to be drowsy for several days after birth.
  • The baby may need to be checked after birth for signs of morphine effects, probably in a unit away from your bed. So instead of having your first skin-to-skin moments with your baby, you may have to wait.
  • It offers limited relief. It won’t completely take the pain away like an epidural would.

Possible side effects of morphine:

  • Feeling nauseous or being sick (in this case you would likely be offered a drug to help with the sickness)
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Vertigo
  • Restlessness
  • Itchiness
  • Heart palpitations or hot flushes
  • You may also find your vision is disturbed
  • Some women find they don’t remember the baby being born because of the ‘out-of-it’ state morphine can induce

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