New mother says she benefits from opioid-free C-section

Giving mothers choice about taking opioids is new protocol at Cleveland Clinic

Whether for wisdom teeth or a cesarean section, overprescribing opioid medications to control pain after surgery has fueled the opioid crisis. 

But doctors are finding innovative ways to reduce use and abuse, and even new mothers are taking part. 

Kristen Winger, of Amherst, Ohio, said she opted against using opioids to ease post-surgery pain after delivering her son by C-section.   

“I feel like having a baby is something I want to be completely present, therefor, I don't want to feel funny,” Winger said. “I want to be able to enjoy it, and while still not be in pain, but also not feel like I'm on something.” 

Instead of taking opioid pain medication, which is common after a C-section and can cause drowsiness, dizziness and nausea, acetaminophen and ibuprofen were rotated every three hours. 

“If you're very sleepy or sedated, we find that, a lot of times, we can't even necessarily leave the baby in the room with the mother,” said Dr. Eric Chiang, an anesthesiologist at Cleveland Clinic’s Fairview Hospital. “So, the baby ends up spending a lot of time in the nursery because the mother's got to be awake and alert.”

Giving mothers a choice about taking opioids is a new protocol at Cleveland Clinic, and data shows many women prefer to avoid opioids altogether. 

“Almost half of the people that have a C-section don’t really need the opioid at all,” Chiang said. “But there were about half that do, which is totally fine.” 

Doctors are reducing the number of opioid pills new moms take home, too. Now, women who need opioids to control pain go home with five pills on average, instead of 20. 

“Keeping those medicines off the street is going to help, hopefully, turn the tide,” Chiang said. “About 80 percent of heroin addicts started with prescription medicine, and the important fact there is that they weren’t necessarily prescribed the medicine, but they obtained it.” 

Winger said her pain was tolerable and she was better able to care for her son. She encourages others to give it a try. 

“It’s worth a shot,” she said. “You might surprise yourself, you might think, 'Hey, I’m stronger than I thought I was and I can do it without narcotics.'” 

Chiang said everyone’s pain tolerance is different, and if non-opioid medications aren’t enough to control pain after a C-section, opioid medicines are always available if a patient asks for them.