WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- A study suggests that women can get through the pains of childbirth by using virtual reality which offers various peaceful and relaxing environments.
- Participants who used VR headsets for 30 minutes reported reduced pains while those who did not use the headsets had increased pains.
- Immersing into virtual reality can serve as a natural alternative to patients besides using pain medications.
Entering into virtual reality may help reduce pains of contractions in women about to go into labor, according to a study presented at the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine in Grapevine, Texas.
According to the researchers, a 30-minute trial where VR headsets provided a variety of peaceful environments and soothing messages were given to 40 hospitalized women in labor, experienced lesser pains compared to those who didn’t use headsets.
Now, the next step is testing the technology for longer periods.
“If we’re going to say that people should have them in the hospital, it’s not to get them through 30 minutes of contractions, it’s to help them in labor,” said study leader Dr. Melissa Wong of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, in a phone interview.
To test the headsets, hospitalized women about to give birth to their first child and who have not taken in any pain medications yet were immersed in a visualization used is called Labor Bliss which is developed by the software developer Applied VR.
While all participants reported having contractions at least every five minutes, all of them also listed their pain level at between 4 and 7 based on a 10-point scale where 10 is reported as the worst pain. Findings revealed that those who immersed in virtual reality for up to 30 minutes during contractions experienced a 0.52 average reduction in pain level compared to the 0.58 average increased level of pain in the control group who did not use the headsets.
While the heart rates of the control group were reported to have significantly risen at the end of the test period, blood pressure or delivery outcomes reported no statistically significant differences between both groups.
Dr. Michael Foley of the University of Arizona in Phoenix who wasn’t involved in the study but has studied VR as pain relief told Reuters that VR can serve as an alternative to patients especially if they want to go natural besides using medications such as epidurals or nitrous oxide to manage their pain during childbirth.
The current headset being used is a Samsung Gear VR headset with a Samsung smartphone. But the researchers said that a fully integrated and more advanced unit called Pico VR will be used to further test patients.
Wong added that future studies will involve upgrading the headsets and the software where different visualizations and levels of user interaction will be applied.
“Anything that’s an electric signal could trigger this. I think it would be super cool to see if we could use the electric signals of their contractions to change the scenes,” Wong said.