A nasal spray could soon be the drug of choice for pain relief for women during childbirth.

Adelaide based researcher Dr Julie Fleet from the University of South Australia, has found a nasal spray filled with the painkiller drug fentanyl is as effective as the traditional pethidine injections commonly given during childbirth for pain relief.

Commonly used as a pain relief in children, Fentanyl is given through the use of a nasal spray as it is less invasive and does not require needles.

Dr Fleet said the spray when used in childbirth has been shown to have fewer side effects for both mother and baby.

“The current method of pain relief that women will get as an injection is using a drug called pethidine,” she said.  “It’s quite an old drug, it takes quite a while to take effect and then it can stay in the mother and baby’s system for an extended period of time.

“The fentanyl acts more quickly and works faster, it’s just as effective in the pain relief, but is less likely to cause the side effects.”

Trialled at Gawler Hospital, the Fentanyl nasal spray has since started offering the drug as a pain relief option for women during labour.  The Women’s and Children’s Hospital is expected to introduce the spray as well.

The results of the trial found more than 80 per cent of the women who had the nasal spray said they would use it again.

“In the first instance they were less likely to feel nauseous anyway, so less sedation, and less nausea and if they did feel it then it would wear off much more quickly than if they were using the pethidine,” Dr Fleet said.

Dr Fleet said women could also self-administer a controlled dose of the nasal spray under a midwife’s supervision.

“For women who might be birthing in rural and remote areas where they don’t have access to a 24 hour, on-call anaesthetist, this is just another option which might be able to assist them get through longer and cope better,” she said.

Dr Fleet has been granted $25,000 from the University of South Australia to continue her research over the next year.

Dr Fleet said her focus over the next year was on the possibility that the nasal spray could actively reduce the need for epidurals – leading to a reduction in costs and the need for assisted births.

“This method reduces the intensity to enable women to cope better with pain relief so therefore they might not need to use an epidural,” she said.

“It’s also good for women who might not be able to have an epidural due to conditions such as preeclampsia.”

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  • Less invasive intervention is always better for mum and bub.


  • … Fentanyl?… Highly addictive, contraindicated in pregnancy and breastfeeding, and easily overdosed?… Geez, it’d have to be STRICTLY regulated!


  • I never had pethidine, but I remember my aunt telling me she gave in to getting it with her daughter as they thought she had a while to go. Her daughter was born not long after and had to be monitored as she copped the lot of it. Anything with less risk is a good thing!


  • this is a great thing to know…. ta for the advice


  • This would be fantastic if it becomes widely available. I was given pethidine just before baby 2 arrived, and he was taken by the nurses for several hours until it no longer affected him. The nurses thought I still had hours and hours ahead of me, which is why it was suggested to help me through.


  • I would love to try this for if we have a second bub. I dilated far too quickly from 4 to 10cm with little one and an epidural was out of the question.


  • hopefully this is fine for the baby during labour but it is a great idea! it would be so helpful


  • Fentanyl has been used in the veterinary industry for years. Given before surgery via injection, and then after surgery, a fentanyl patch is put on. It’s very effective. Great to see that it can be used for Labour in people.


  • This sounds like a wonderful idea – hopefully sufficient trials will be done so that it can be implemented.


  • This sounds like something that I would try… I have written in my birth plan that I do not want an Epidural and I want limited use of drugs of any kind if possible but definitely would be open to something like this as my last resort option.


  • Epidurals don’t work for ever Mum either. I know a Mum who had 3 of them. They obviously didn’t put them in the right spot or something because they made no difference at all. All she got from them was a dull backache which she had never had previously and still gets occasionally. She was in labour for over 28 hours before a specialist happened to walk past the room and decided to speak to one of the midwives, took one look at her and said “don’t tell me you are still in labour?” He checked her and said to the staff “theatre now” and they ignored him so he yelled at them. She had to have an emergency C-section. He gave her Pethedeine.


  • Always good to find alternatives with less side effects.


  • Great! Let’s hope that the research gives good results and this nasal spray will soon reach the market.


  • What a great idea, i had pethadine injections during my first labour, it made me feel sick/ and vomit and really sleepy, i would have mini microsleeps inbetween contractions and wake up when i had contraction


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