Pethidine is an opiate-based, pain relieving drug given by injection into the thigh or bottom. It is not 100% effective in eliminating pain, but it does dull the pain and help you to relax between contractions.
Pethidine does travel across the placenta to the baby, and whilst it is not toxic to the baby it may have a depressing affect on the baby’s ability to breathe after delivery- for this reason it is not advisable to have more than 2 doses of the drug. In cases where a woman has had Pethidine during labour, a paediatrician is often called to the room for the delivery just in case the baby has difficulty in breathing when it is born.
Although it is not so widely used these days, it can be useful in certain circumstances when an epidural is inappropriate, perhaps where the early stages of labour are very painful and it is too early for an epidural (see Stages of Labour) or when an epidural is not advisable or delayed for some reason.
A lot of women complain of feeling nauseous or shaky after using Pethidine. It is usually given alongside an anti-sickness drug to minimise this effect. Other complaints include a feeling of being “out of it” or out of control and some women have reported having hallucinations after having Pethidine.
Some hospitals may use Diamorphine or Omnopon which are other strong opiate drugs with a similar form of action and limitations.