Virtual reality immersion may relieve some of the pain of contractions before childbirth, a small study has found.
In a half-hour test among 40 hospitalized women in labor, those who used VR headsets that provided relaxing scenes and messages reported pain reductions compared with those who didn’t get headsets, researchers said in a presentation at the annual meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine in Grapevine, Texas.
The next step is to test the technology for longer periods in laboring women.
“Because that’s what the real goal is, right?” according to the study leader Dr. Melissa Wong, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “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.”
Wong and her colleagues recruited women who were in the hospital to have their first child and who hadn’t yet taken any pain relief drugs.
All of the participants were having contractions at least every five minutes and all of them scored their pain level at between 4 and 7 on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the worst pain. Those who used VR headsets for up to 30 minutes during contractions reported an average reduction in pain level of 0.52 at the end of that period, while the control group that didn’t get the headsets reported an average increase in pain of 0.58.
Patients in the control group also had a significantly higher heart rate after the test period, which was one of the secondary outcomes Wong’s team looked at. There were no statistically meaningful differences between the groups in blood pressure or delivery outcomes.
Future research will include upgraded headsets and possibly new software. The study group used a Samsung Gear VR headset paired with a Samsung smartphone, but the researchers plan to test patients with a fully integrated unit called Pico VR. It is more advanced and more comfortable for longer periods of use.
The visualization used in the test is called Labor Bliss and it’s developed by Applied VR.