Virtual reality helps mums through painful pregnancy procedure

Using virtual reality while turning breech baby

In a world-first, virtual reality is being used to help mums-to-be cope with the pain of having their babies turned out of a breech position.

Australian doctors have pioneered the unique way to help pregnant women take their minds off what can be an uncomfortable procedure to turn breech babies in utero. The Monash University trial is showing promising signs of being a simple way to help pregnant women through the re-positioning of their breech bub.

External Cephalic Version (ECV) is a procedure peformed at about 37 weeks gestation, and involves an obstetrician manually flipping the baby in utero to turn it to a head down position. It’s can be a painful procedure and is done without pain relief.

Distracting from the pain of ECV

As part of the trial, 50 expecting mums at Monash Women’s were given virtual reality glasses to wear during their procedure. The pregnant women watched lanterns launch into the sky, and had to click on the headset to light the lanterns before they burst. The hope is that the women are distracted by the game, and won’t feel as much, or any, pain.

“VR is said to work in two ways to reduce pain – through distraction where pain impulses are blocked or slowed from entering the brain, and on a neurobiological level by reducing the perception of pain experienced by the brain,” explained Dr Vinayak Smith and Ritesh Warty of Monash University’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, who led the trial.

Following the positive results from this study, it’s hoped virtual reality could be tested to distract mums-to-be from pain during early labour.

“If we continue to see the analgesic benefits of virtual reality, it could be adopted more broadly by hospitals in procedures to reduce pain and anxiety for patients. It may even reduce the need for pain relief medications,” Dr Smith said.

What is ECV?

Babies tend to change positions constantly during pregnancy, but when it gets to the pointy end of gestation most babies get comfy in the head-down position. But about three in 100 bubs will be in a breech position at 36 weeks, which means birth is a little trickier.

It’s usually a wait and see approach, as some babies will still turn into the right position for birth in that last month of pregnancy. But if bub is still not in the head-down position by week 36, an external cephalic version or ECV may be discussed.

An ECV involves an obstetrician using their hands on your belly to turn the baby into the head-down position. Bub is monitored via CTG, and some medicine to relax your uterus may be given to you. Baby will be monitored for about 30 minutes before the doctor attempts the EVC.

The obstetrician does an ultrasound just to check the position of the baby, and will then try to turn your little one. The whole procedure takes around three hours, including all the monitoring.

Who can have an ECV?

It’s not recommended that an EVC be attempted if you have:

  • a complicated pregnancy
  • twins or triplets
  • an unusually shaped uterus
  • had a caesarean section before
  • recently had vaginal bleeding
  • low levels of amniotic fluid
  • placenta praevia

Does an ECV always work?

It doesn’t always work for every mum and bub, and there’s always the change that baby will go back into a breech position before birth – because babies have a mind of their own!

Source: Health Direct

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