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IV’s During Labor: Find out if the Truth on whether You Need an IV During Childbirth

Intravenous fluids (IV) have become part of the package when mothers give birth in a hospital. Often during admitting procedures, an IV is immediately placed into the same vein used to draw blood for routine lab work. What are some of the uses for IV’s, disadvantages they introduce as well as alternatives or other options mothers can request?

Uses for IV’s During Labor

An IV is a small plastic catheter which is introduced into the mother’s vein in her wrist or arm and used for several purposes during labor. One purpose is to keep the mother hydrated during labor. If the mother is not able to keep any fluids down due to extreme nausea and vomiting, IV fluid can be one way to keep her well-hydrated.

Another reason IV’s are used is for the purpose of introducing medication. Pain medications such as narcotics (Stadol, Nubaine) are typically administered via IV during labor. Pitocin is also administered through an IV during mother’s labor. Pitocin can be used for labor induction, to augment a slow or stalled labor as well as to prevent postpartum bleeding.

IV’s are also a part of the package if the mother chooses an epidural. Additional fluid provided by an IV can help to prevent a drop in her blood pressure, which is a common side effect of an epidural. Other medications such as antibiotics and anti-nausea medications can also be administered into an IV.

Disadvantages of Having an IV During Labor

IV’s can present a number of challenges to a laboring mother. The procedure alone is often painful and disruptive to a mother’s focus during labor. The catheter, even if placed correctly can be tender throughout a mother’s labor. IV’s cause mothers to have yet another thing “to worry about.” If mothers want to walk or move around, they need to be constantly aware of the location of the catheter and pole.

In some cases, IV’s can prevent a mother from getting in the shower or tub. Using hydrotherapy (via a shower or tub) requires that the staff know how to wrap the needle and catheter to prevent water from getting into the area. Not all hospital staff knows how to do this. IV fluid can also increase the amount of swelling for the mother, which can take several weeks to completely go away.

Alternatives to Having an IV During Labor

There are several questions to ask your provider about what options you have regarding IV’s and staying hydrated:

  1. Can you have the option of a heparine/saline lock? This allows access to the vein, but the IV is capped and taped for later use instead of adding continuous fluid.
  2. If you are staying hydrated with clear fluids, is an IV still required?
  3. If you do not plan to use an epidural or other pain medications, can you opt to have a saline/heparin lock or no IV?
  4. If you are high-risk (such as VBAC) and need an IV for quick access, can you use a saline/heparin lock instead of a traditional IV during labor?

Be sure to get to know your provider’s philosophy about other birth options by using this helpful checklist of questions.

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