Virtual reality trialled to distract women from pain of childbirth

Chloe Kent 12 August 2019 (Last Updated August 12th, 2019 16:15)

Women in labour are being given virtual reality (VR) headsets to wear during labour as part of a study to see if it can help them manage the pain of childbirth.

Virtual reality trialled to distract women from pain of childbirth
A new study marks one of the first times AI technology has been trialled for childbirth pain management on such a large scale. Credit: Shutterstock

Women in labour are being given virtual reality (VR) headsets to wear during labour as part of a study to see if it can help them manage the pain of childbirth.

The trial, which is taking place at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff, could be rolled out across Wales if successful.

Wearers can choose from a range of VR experiences such as being submerged underwater, watching the Northern Lights or being at the beach to distract from the pain of giving birth.

VR has been used as a pain management device for some time, most famously to help burns victims deal with the intense discomfort of having their bandages changed. The Cardiff study marks one of the first times the technology has been trialled for childbirth pain management on such a large scale.

The University Hospital of Wales is now working to arrange a feedback session to gauge the responses of women to the headset, produced by Rescape. Each headset costs around £4,000 a year.

Speaking to the BBC, head of midwifery for Cardiff and Vale health board Suzanne Hardacre said: “It provides us with an opportunity to do something really different, something innovative, something that’s not being used elsewhere.

“There’s a great opportunity particularly to use this with women in early labour, to try and help them with some breathing and relaxation and take them out of the moment.”

The Rescape headset gathers data on its own efficacy as it operates by asking the patient using it to rate their pain on a zero to ten scale before and after use. Thus far, the company has processed the data of 1,300 patients and found a 50% reduction in reported pain levels and a 52% reduction in anxiety and stress.

Rescape founder Glenn Hapgood said: “Your brain can only focus on one reality. If in that reality you’re experiencing pain or anxiety and stress, when your dominant senses are encompassed with another reality, the pain receptors in the brain don’t work, and don’t allow that pain to filter through.”