A Welsh NHS hospital is offering virtual reality experiences for women going into labour to help them relax and take their mind off the pain.
University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff is testing whether peaceful beaches seen through a headset will ease discomfort.
In one seven-minute session, expectant mothers can also watch the Northern Lights, walk on Mars or among penguins and buffalo.
But the soothing effects of calming music or a guided voiceover are said to last for 45 minutes.
If the programme is deemed successful, it could be rolled out across more maternity units in Wales.
University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff is offering virtual reality experiences for women going into labour to help them relax and take their mind off the pain
The hospital is testing whether peaceful beaches seen through a headset will ease discomfort during the early stages of labour. Pictured, Hannah Lelii testing the VR headset
Head midwife Suzanne Hardacre said there had already been positive feedback, with beach scenes being the most popular (pictured)
In one seven minute session, expectant mothers can also watch the Northern Lights
In the later stages of labour, women are often given gas and air, an injection of the drug pethidine or an epidural to help with the pain.
The VR experience could be an alternative, Suzanne Hardacre, the head of midwifery for Cardiff and Vale health board, told The Times.
But she said it was intended for the early stages of labour when women are more in control.
Ms Hardacre said: ‘For things like early labour at the moment we can offer water, breathing and relaxation. Virtual reality just brings another dimension to that.
‘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.’
Ms Hardacre said it also had the potential to be used with women who previously had traumatic birth experiences.
Pregnant women can also walk on Mars or among penguins and buffalo
Ms Lelii tested the kit ahead of the birth of her first baby this month and was impressed
Ms Lelii told BBC : ‘It’s genuinely 360 degrees, so when I turn, I’ve got the view that would be behind me or to the side of me’
The hospital will arrange a feedback session after a few months trialling the headsets
The headset is a Samsung Gear Gen 2 (pictured) provided by Rescape
The hospital will arrange a feedback session after a few months trialling the headsets to gauge how mothers responded.
So far, Ms Hardacre said there had already been positive feedback, with beach scenes being the most popular as well as being among a herd of buffaloes.
Mother-to-be Hannah Lelii tested the kit ahead of the birth of her first baby this month and was impressed.
She told BBC: ‘It’s genuinely 360 degrees, so when I turn, I’ve got the view that would be behind me or to the side of me.
‘It helps to get me in a state of relaxation.’
Ms Lelii said the VR experience may not work for everyone, but choice was important for mothers going into labour.
The headset is a Samsung Gear Gen 2, provided by Rescape, who charge about £4,000 per headset each year in healthcare settings.
Glenn Hapgood, the founder of Rescape, said he was in discussions about providing the technology to eight other British maternity units.
VR headsets have already worked to reduce anxiety and pain for women during childbirth and abortions in a US trial.
All of the women involved in trying VR at Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles said the experience left them less anxious, and most (57 percent) said it reduced their pain.
Another study, at UCLA, found women who used VR headsets for more than five minutes during an abortion in the first trimester felt less anxious.
WHAT IS VIRTUAL REALITY?
Virtual reality is a computer-generated simulation of an environment or situation.
- It immerses the user by making them feel like they are in the simulated reality throughimages and sounds
- For example, in VR, you could feel like you’re climbing a mountain while sat at home
Virtual reality is the term used to describe A three-dimensional, computer generated environment which can be explored and interacted with by a person.
That person becomes part of this virtual world or is immersed within this environment and whilst there, is able to manipulate objects or perform a series of actions.
How is virtual reality achieved?
Virtual reality is usually implemented using computer technology. There are a range of systems that are used for this purpose, such as headsets, omni-directional treadmills and special gloves.
These are used to actually stimulate our senses together in order to create the illusion of reality.