Labor causes severe pain for many women. There is no other circumstance in which it is considered acceptable for an individual to experience untreated severe pain that is amenable to safe intervention while the individual is under a physician’s care. Many women desire pain management during labor and delivery, and there are many medical indications for analgesia and anesthesia during labor and delivery. In the absence of a medical contraindication, maternal request is a sufficient medical indication for pain relief during labor. A woman who requests epidural analgesia during labor should not be deprived of this service based on the status of her health insurance. Third-party payers that provide reimbursement for obstetric services should not deny reimbursement for labor analgesia because of an absence of “other medical indications.” Anesthesia services should be available to provide labor analgesia and surgical anesthesia in all hospitals that offer maternal care (levels I–IV) (1). Although the availability of different methods of labor analgesia will vary from hospital to hospital, the methods available within an institution should not be based on a patient’s ability to pay.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists believes that in order to allow the maximum number of patients to benefit from neuraxial analgesia, labor nurses should not be restricted from participating in the management of pain relief during labor. Under appropriate physician supervision, labor and delivery nursing personnel who have been educated properly and have demonstrated current competence should be able to participate in the management of epidural infusions.
The purpose of this document is to review medical options for analgesia during labor and anesthesia for surgical procedures that are common at the time of delivery. Nonpharmacologic options such as massage, immersion in water during the first stage of labor, acupuncture, relaxation, and hypnotherapy are not covered in this document, though they may be useful as adjuncts or alternatives in many cases.
For a comprehensive overview of obstetric analgesia and anesthesia, the full-text version of this Practice Bulletin is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1097/AOG.0000000000002018.
Committee on Practice Bulletins—Obstetrics. This Practice Bulletin was developed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ Committee on Practice Bulletins—Obstetrics in collaboration with Lauren Plante, MD, and Robert Gaiser, MD.
The information is designed to aid practitioners in making decisions about appropriate obstetric and gynecologic care. These guidelines should not be construed as dictating an exclusive course of treatment or procedure. Variations in practice may be warranted based on the needs of the individual patient, resources, and limitations unique to the institution or type of practice.
Copyright April 2017 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, posted on the Internet, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, orotherwise, without prior written permission from the publisher.
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Official Citation: Obstetric analgesia and anesthesia. Practice Bulletin No. 177. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Obstet Gynecol 2017; 129:e73–89.
Received February 24, 2017
Accepted February 24, 2017