Labour analgesia: Recent advances

Indian J Anaesth. 2010 Sep;54(5):400-8. doi: 10.4103/0019-5049.71033.


Advances in the field of labour analgesia have tread a long journey from the days of ether and chloroform in 1847 to the present day practice of comprehensive programme of labour pain management using evidence-based medicine. Newer advances include introduction of newer techniques like combined spinal epidurals, low-dose epidurals facilitating ambulation, pharmacological advances like introduction of remifentanil for patient-controlled intravenous analgesia, introduction of newer local anaesthetics and adjuvants like ropivacaine, levobupivacaine, sufentanil, clonidine and neostigmine, use of inhalational agents like sevoflourane for patient-controlled inhalational analgesia using special vaporizers, all have revolutionized the practice of pain management in labouring parturients. Technological advances like use of ultrasound to localize epidural space in difficult cases minimizes failed epidurals and introduction of novel drug delivery modalities like patient-controlled epidural analgesia (PCEA) pumps and computer-integrated drug delivery pumps have improved the overall maternal satisfaction rate and have enabled us to customize a suitable analgesic regimen for each parturient. Recent randomized controlled trials and Cochrane studies have concluded that the association of epidurals with increased caesarean section and long-term backache remains only a myth. Studies have also shown that the newer, low-dose regimes do not have a statistically significant impact on the duration of labour and breast feeding and also that these reduce the instrumental delivery rates thus improving maternal and foetal safety. Advances in medical technology like use of ultrasound for localizing epidural space have helped the clinicians to minimize the failure rates, and many novel drug delivery modalities like PCEA and computer-integrated PCEA have contributed to the overall maternal satisfaction and safety.

Keywords: Ambulatory epidurals; labour analgesia; recent advances.