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Virtual Reality to ease birthing experience

A PhD student from New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington is exploring a new frontier of pain relief for drug-free birthing.

According to a recent press release, virtual reality technology would fit well with other methods used to help drug-free labour since it has been used previously for pain management in other areas.

Background of the study

Pregnant women use a wide range of methods to manage pain while giving birth and now another potential method of pain management is being researched,

A qualified and experienced midwife, the student wanted to undertake a research project that could help pregnant women in a practical way and extend midwifery practice.

Her experience taught her that many women opt for a natural, drug-free birth without an epidural.

Visualisation is a very powerful tool that can take patients to their ‘happy place’ and help them relax and manage their pain.

Labour can be long and using the same pain management techniques can be tiring.

For her research, the student is looking to answer two questions. These are:

  1. Would women be willing to use virtual reality during labour to help manage their pain?
  2. Would virtual reality help them manage their pain and feel in control of the labour process?

The Study

A group of pregnant women were recruited to take part in the study. They were asked to view four virtual reality scenes using a VR head-set.

The process was designed to prepare the women for the experience of using virtual reality and make sure they would be comfortable wearing the headset.

Each participant wore the headset for two 10-minute intervals during the early and active stages of their labour.

While wearing the headset, they were asked to assess their level of pain. Their pulse and blood pressure were measured since these are two good indicators of stress on the body.

The women could also use the headset at other points during labour if they wished.

The Results

The women were each interviewed after giving birth and returning home.

They were asked several questions such as if virtual reality helped them manage their pain, relax, and feel in control. Also, would they use it again or recommend it to a friend.

Many respondents have said virtual reality helped them gain a positive birth experience while most, so far, expressed that they would both use it again and recommend it to pregnant friends.

Interestingly, most women shared that instead of reducing their pain, the use of virtual reality helped them spend less time thinking about their pain and helped them manage it.

Overall, scenes of nature or underwater were most popular particularly since the women were able to relate the scene to a happy memory like a tropical holiday.

However, women generally found commercially available virtual reality scenes too short.

Most women asked for longer, more engaging scenes to keep them going through a long labour, which the student is currently looking at developing, adding extra features like breathing techniques.


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