Non-axial administration of fentanyl in childbirth: a review of the efficacy and safety of fentanyl for mother and neonate

Julie Fleet, Meril Jones, Ingrid Belan

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    6 Citations (Scopus)


    Objective: to investigate the use of fentanyl for pain relief during childbirth administered by routes other than epidural or spinal (non-axial). In particular, aspects relating to the efficacy and safety of fentanyl for mother and neonate are explored. Background: currently, pethidine is the most widely used intramuscular opioid for the relief of labour pain but has been shown to have numerous side-effects on the mother and neonate. An alternative opioid, fentanyl, has been shown to have fewer side-effects on both mother and neonate than pethidine. Therefore, its use during childbirth was examined in this literature review. Review methods: a search of articles relating to the administration of fentanyl via non-axial routes was conducted using electronic databases, key journals and reference lists of selected research papers and reviews. Results: only studies of IV administration were identified from the literature findings from showed that IV administered fentanyl appeared to be a safe, efficacious opioid when administered for pain relief in childbirth. Fentanyl is a short-acting analgesic causing less sedation and nausea in adults than pethidine. In addition, no long-term fetal or neonatal effects of fentanyl were identified, with normal neonatal neurological and adaptive capacities at two hours and 24 hours after birth supporting its safe use in childbirth. Key conclusion: in the studies identified, fentanyl was found to be efficacious, providing prompt analgesia with minimal side-effects to both mother and infant when administered intravenously (IV) during childbirth. In addition, no long-term fetal effects were found. Recommendations for further research: there is a paucity of research relating to the maternal, fetal and neonatal effects of non-axial administered fentanyl other than that of IV. Further research should explore alternate routes of administration such as subcutaneous, sublingual and nasal which are less invasive and can be administered by midwives. Implication for practice: in confirming the safe use of non-axial administration of fentanyl during childbirth, benefits include midwives being able to offer women an alternative option for pain relief. Alternative routes, such as subcutaneous, can be managed by midwives through a standing order, potentially reducing the need for additional resources. In particular, this will benefit midwifery practice in rural and remote settings where resources and access to specialised services are limited.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)e106-e113
    Number of pages8
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2011


    • Childbirth
    • Efficacy
    • Fentanyl
    • Labour/labour
    • Narcotic
    • Pain relief
    • Subcutaneous
    • Sublimaze
    • Systemic pain relief


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