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Childbirth Pain May be Alleviated with Virtual Reality Technology

According to a recent study, immersive virtual reality (VR) can alleviate a great deal of contraction-related pain experienced prior to childbirth. 40 women in labour were subjected to a half-hour test in a hospital for the research. Some of them who used VR headsets and were shown messages and calming scenes.

According to the researchers, the VR headset-equipped patients reported reduced pain in comparison with those who did not use them. This information was revealed at the annual convention of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, held in Grapevine, Texas.

The future plans entail testing out the technology on women in labour for longer periods. Dr. Melissa Wong, the study lead, and an obstetrician-gynecologist at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, emphasised the same in an interview over the phone. She expressed that if the technology is to be provided to hospitals, it should be able to help women through labour instead of just 30 minutes of relief through contractions.

For the VR study, Wong and her associates picked out women admitted to the hospital for having their first child, and still had to take drugs for pain relief. All the participating women were having contractions at least every five minutes, and indicated their pain level to be between 4 and 7 on a 10 scale, where 10 is the highest level of pain. Participants donning the VR headsets for 30 minutes whilst experiencing contractions communicated an average pain reduction level of 0.52 by the end of that time-span. The study participants who were not given the headsets reported an average pain increase level of 0.58.

Childbirth pain can be alleviated with VR. Image source: Anjusoftware

Patients subjected to the VR sessions also reported notably higher heart rate after the test period, a secondary outcome observed by Wong’s team. No significant statistical differences existed between both the groups in terms of blood pressure or delivery results.

Dr. Michael Foley, chair of the department of obstetrics and gynaecology, the University of Arizona in Phoenix, remarked that the VR-based research findings were quite plausible. Foley did not take part in the study itself, but has researched virtual reality as a pain relief method during the labour phase. Speaking to Reuters Health, Foley said that he considers the VR-based pain relief approach as a suitable option for patients, alongside familiar solutions like taking epidurals, narcotics, and medication. He explained that using virtual reality is a more natural alternative to drugs, and a choice that can further enhance the experience.

According to Wong, research conducted in the future will be with upgraded VR headsets and cutting-edge software. For the study, the researchers offered Samsung Gear VR headsets paired with Samsung smartphones. They intend to run tests on patients with a unified VR system called Pico VR that facilitates better comfort and longer use periods.

Labor Bliss, developed by the firm Applied VR, was the visualisation used for the VR test. Wong believes that future research should evaluate other visualisations and user interaction levels to produce better benefits.

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