Victoria University of Wellington PhD student Lorna Massov is researching...
Victoria University of Wellington PhD student Lorna Massov is researching VR’s potential for pain management and so far the results are good.
Source: Victoria University of Wellington

Childbirth: Visualizing the pain away with VR

Could VR unlock a new frontier of pain relief for drug-free birthing? A PHD student is researching the tech's potential for pain management, so far the results are good.

Water, medication, music – pregnant women use a wide range of methods to manage pain while giving birth. And now Victoria University of Wellington PhD student Lorna Massov is researching another potential method of pain management: virtual reality technology. A qualified and experienced midwife, Massov wanted to undertake a research project that could help pregnant women in a practical way and extend midwifery practice. “In my experience, many women want a natural, drug-free birth without an epidural,” she says. “There are many other methods used to help with drug-free labour, and I thought virtual reality would fit in well with this suite of techniques as it has previously been used for pain management in other areas. Labour can be long, and you can get tired of using the same pain management techniques. Visualisation is a very powerful tool that can take patients to their ‘happy place’ and help them relax and manage their pain.”

Massov wanted to answer two questions with her research: would women be willing to use virtual reality during labour to help manage their pain, and would virtual reality help them manage their pain and feel in control of the labour process? She recruited a group of pregnant women to take part in her study and asked them to view four virtual reality scenes using a VR headset. This 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 they wore the headset, Massov asked them to assess their level of pain, and then measured their pulse and blood pressure—two good indicators of stress on the body. The women could also use the headset at other points during labour if they wished.

Finally, Massov interviewed each of the women after they had given birth and returned home, asking them if virtual reality helped them manage their pain, relax, and feel in control, and if they would use it again or recommend it to a friend. “Many respondents have said virtual reality helped them have a positive birth experience, and most respondents so far have said they would both use it again and recommend it to pregnant friends,” she says. “Interestingly, most women said, rather than reducing their pain, the use of virtual reality helped them spend less time thinking about their pain and helped them manage their pain.”

Overall, says Massov, nature or underwater scenes were most popular, especially when women could relate the scene to a happy memory such as 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, and I am currently looking at developing those along with extra features like breathing techniques.”

Subscribe to our newsletter

Related articles

Network medicine makes drug repurposing effective

Network medicine makes drug repurposing effective

Artificial intelligence can increase the effectiveness of drug repositioning or repurposing research.

A new way to deliver drugs through the skin

A new way to deliver drugs through the skin

Scientists have showed that applying "temporal pressure" to the skin of mice can create a new way to deliver drugs.

Robot jaws shows effect of medicated chewing gum

Robot jaws shows effect of medicated chewing gum

Research has shown a robot with built-in humanoid jaws could provide opportunities for pharmaceutical companies to develop medicated chewing gum.

A microfluidic chip system as alternative to animal experiments

A microfluidic chip system as alternative to animal experiments

Since mid-2019, the Fraunhofer IBMT has been developing an analysis platform as an alternative to animal experiments in drug development.

Closer threats inspire a more primitive kind of fear

Closer threats inspire a more primitive kind of fear

Using VR to make threats appear near or far is what makes it harder to extinguish the fear of a close-up threat and more likely that you’ll have some long-term stress from the experience.

VR study: our visual world of color is incorrect

VR study: our visual world of color is incorrect

A study finds that people are aware of surprisingly limited color in their peripheral vision; much of our sense of a colorful visual world is likely constructed by our brain.

Re-association of body parts using VR

Re-association of body parts using VR

Researchers report that a re-association of the right thumb with a virtual left arm can be induced by visuo-motor synchronization in a virtual environment.

4D printing may speed development of therapeutics

4D printing may speed development of therapeutics

Researchers have created a 4D printer capable of constructing patterned surfaces that recreate the complexity of cell surfaces.

VR for early detection of MS balance problems

VR for early detection of MS balance problems

The UNC School of Medicine lab of Jason Franz, PhD, created virtual reality experiments to show how a potentially portable and inexpensive test could reduce falls and related injuries in people with multiple sclerosis.

Popular articles