SMFM Consult Series #59, The use of analgesia and anesthesia for maternal-fetal procedures
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Pain is a complex phenomenon that involves more than a simple physical response to external stimuli. In maternal-fetal surgical procedures, fetal analgesia is used primarily to blunt fetal autonomic responses and minimize fetal movement. The purpose of this Consult is to review the literature on what is known about the potential for fetal awareness of pain and to discuss the indications for and risk-benefit calculus involved in the use of fetal anesthesia and analgesia. The recommendations by the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine are as follows: (1) we suggest that fetal paralytic agents be considered in the setting of intrauterine transfusion if needed for the purpose of decreasing fetal movement (GRADE 2C); (2) although the fetus is unable to experience pain at the gestational age when procedures are typically performed, we suggest that opioid analgesia should be administered to the fetus during invasive fetal surgical procedures to attenuate acute autonomic responses that may be deleterious, to avoid long term consequences of nociception and physiologic stress on the fetus, and to decrease fetal movement to enable the safe execution of procedures (GRADE 2C); (3) due to maternal risk and lack of evidence supporting a benefit to the fetus, we recommend against the administration of fetal analgesia at the time of pregnancy termination (GRADE 1C).