Labour Pain Relief Options: Opioid

Pain is part of the labour process, but there are many options for pain management. Everybody has different pain tolerances and different desires for their birth so it is entirely your decision whether you would like to have any medical pain relief or not. Here, we discuss opioids for labour in New Zealand.


What are opioids?

A pain relief drug, usually given via an injection in your leg. It can also be given through an IV drip.

Pethidine, Morphine, and Fentanyl are the opioid medications commonly used for labour in New Zealand.


How does it work?

The aim with this method of pain relief is to help you feel more relaxed and cope better with the pain of labour. It does not completely eliminate pain.

Depending on the drug used, they can take from just a few minutes to 30 minutes to start working.


Side effects

  • Some birthing people find these drugs make them feel woozy, out of control, or nauseous. Anti-nausea medication can be given if you feel sick.
  • Opioids can cross over to the placenta which may cause your baby to be drowsy at birth. For this reason, they aren’t usually given within two hours of delivery to minimise the risk of this side effect.
  • Pethidine may cause your baby to be sleepier than normal for a few days which can affect breastfeeding.
  • Opioids can make you sleepy or slow down your breathing which may require you being given oxygen.
  • Using opioids during labour is safe and will not cause you or your baby to become addicted.


Benefits of opioids

  • Very strong and good at relieving pain.
  • The effects can last a few hours.
  • Can be administered by a midwife.


Disadvantages to opioids

  • Some birthing people find they do not work as effectively as an epidural.
  • Some birthing people do not like how it makes them feel.
  • Possible side effects for your baby.



Hospital only.