Women who are in labor are acutely aware of the pain, and joy, that comes with the experience. Now, science has a way to reduce the first part and enhance the second.
In a yearlong clinical trial at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, about half the women in labor were fitted with a virtual reality, or VR, headset. They then had a VR session called Labor Bliss, which allowed them to see and hear relaxing visuals and messages for up to 30 minutes. A second group of expectant mothers did not receive the intervention.
Women were included in the study if they had an elevated pain score and contractions every five minutes. Women were excluded if they had received any medications for pain relief or if they had any history of epilepsy, seizures or dizziness.
The women who tried VR reported a significantly lower amount of pain after the session than they had experienced before putting on the headsets. They also had improved maternal and fetal vital scores, less need for epidurals and lower heart rates, which the researchers said is consistent with a reduction in pain.
The team noted the study was limited because the sessions were short — only a half-hour. Also, they couldn’t say for sure that the benefits were because of virtual reality or because any kind of distraction might help reduce labor pains.
Still, VR has been shown to be effective in treating anxiety and mood disorders as well as for rehabilitation after a stroke or traumatic brain injuries. Other studies have shown VR helps lower acute and chronic pain. Easing labor pains through virtual reality may be moving into mainstream use before long.