Sterile Water Injections For Back Pain In Labour

Sterile Water Injections For Back Pain In Labour

Have you heard about sterile water injections, and want to know more?

Some women experience very painful lower back pain during labour, often due to the baby being in a posterior position.

A posterior position means the baby’s spine is against the mother’s spine, instead of baby’s back being outward, towards mama’s tummy.

This causes added pain, due to the pressure and weight on the mother’s spine (the baby is fine!).

Optimal fetal positioning is a great way to prevent a posterior baby.

But a posterior baby may be facing that way due to positioning of the placenta, the shape of the mother’s pelvis, and other reasons.

If you’re trying to avoid an epidural in labour, sterile water injections are an option.

What Are Sterile Water Injections?

Sterile water injections used for labouring women are injection of minute amounts of sterile water, into the skin.

The sterile water injections are a fairly new offering in the birth room, and have shown such wonderful results.

The injections aren’t available everywhere.

I wanted to find out more about how these sterile water injections worked, so I interviewed midwife Carolyn Hastie. Carolyn previously managed Belmont Birthing Service, and was NSW Midwife of the Year.

Q: Are Sterile Water Injections Really Just Water?

A: “Yes, it is really just water!”

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Q: Who Came Up With The Idea To Do These Injections?

A: “From my understanding, the water injections being used for labouring women came from their use with people with renal colic/kidney stones. They are very effective for that condition.

The concept behind the development of sterile water injections for pain is gate control theory.

Our skin has thousands of receptor sites and nerve cell endings. They scan for pain, pressure, touch etc, and it can transmit that information to the brain very quickly.

Sensations shoot up the nerves and spinal cord to the brain. The sensations (which are chemical and electrical signals) go through little traffic control stations.

The signal boxes in the nerve pathways are ‘manned’ by chemical signalers which let pain, pressure, touch etc., signals through to the brain.

The signal boxes in the nerve pathways are called gates.

They’re called gates because they choose which signal to let through. When the brain receives the signals, it decides what action to take.

The traffic controllers (chemicals) which man the gates preference skin signals over internal signals.

This is because the skin is monitoring the outside environment, and it lets the brain know when there is immediate danger.

When a woman has back pain in labour, the pain signals are slow, internally generated signals.

If a woman has the water injections into her skin, it stings for about thirty seconds.

That sting switches on the fast fibres.

The fast fibre signals from the skin come racing up to the gate. The traffic controlling chemicals recognise an immediate threat, close the gate to the slow pain messages, and let the quick skin related message through.

The internal pain signal is stopped in its tracks, and the woman no longer feels that internal sensation. That effect lasts for about 90 minutes.”

Q: When Should A Woman Use Sterile Water Injections For Back Pain?

A: “Some back pain is normal when the baby’s head is descending in the pelvis. It presses on the sacrum, pushing it out as the head turns on its way down.

That’s nature’s signal to the mother than the birth of her baby is imminent.

When a woman has intractable back pain, because of the baby being in the posterior position, then the water injections may be useful.”

Q: How Effective Are Sterile Water Injections?

A: “They are very effective for the majority of women.

The pain level of the back pain has to be a high enough level so that the wasp like sting is worth it.

On a 0-10 score, with 10 being the worst pain imaginable, the pain level has to be about an 8 or above.

I’ve seen lots of women have the injections, and only one has said it wasn’t worth it.

Her pain scale was not high enough when the midwives administered the injections.”

Q: How Quickly Does It Work and How Much Pain Does It Take Away?

“It works immediately and takes away the internal pain.”

Q: Do Sterile Water Injections Work For Everyone?

A: “Even the woman who said it wasn’t worth it pushed her baby out very quickly after the injections. Previously, she wasn’t pushing effectively before the injections, because of the pain in her back.”

Q: When Is The Best Time To Have Sterile Water Injections During Labour?

A: “They’re best used when the woman’s backache is 8 out of 10 and she can’t manage it.”

Q: What Advice Do You Have For Anyone Interested In Sterile Water Injections During Labour?

A: “Women could certainly ask their local service (hospital/midwives) about the use of these injections for back pain.

Janice deoCampo from Colac teaches how to do these injections, and has run workshops on using them.

She brought the idea to Australia, after her daughter used them in labour in Sweden.

Janice ran a workshop for us at Belmont Birthing Service and our midwives use them when necessary.

These injections are also being used at John Hunter Hospital. We wrote a policy and put the process through the Clinical Governance Unit for approval.”

Q: What Is Your Personal Opinion About Sterile Water Injections?

A: “These injections are fantastic. Quick, easy and safe. Women are able to stay mobile and there are no other effects from them.

Obviously, infection could be a risk, if sensible normal procedures were not followed.

We have actually used them for suprapubic pain (referred sensation from the cervix opening, felt just above the pubic bone).

This pain is another one of those indicators from nature telling the woman that labour is progressing, but for an occasional woman, she is not able to bear it.

We have found the sterile water injections work well there too – the system works all over the body because of the ‘gates’.

If the labour is a long one, the woman may need a couple of ‘doses’. But for many women, the relief of the internal pain enables her to relax, the pelvic muscles relax, the baby turns, the cervix dilates and out it comes! In second stage it can be amazingly fast.

In first stage it depends on how open the cervix already is when the injections are given as to how fast it goes.”

Comments About Sterile Water Injections From Other Midwives

“I have only used this once with rather miraculous results, so not really qualified to comment. Went from back pain scale 9&1/2 to zero in 2 contractions!” — Di

“I have used water injections for back pain in labour for the last 3 years in 2 different hospitals, always with amazing results. Very few women say it didn’t help at all.” — Sally

Pointers For Midwives Or Doctors Interested In Doing Sterile Water Injections

a) Use fine needles 25 gauge
b) Use 0.1mL of sterile water (yes, that’s all)
c) Get the woman to point to where the pain is worst and inject there
d) Two midwives administer the water at the same time – the sting may stop the woman from having the other side done if only one midwife does it.
e) Have the partner hold the woman’s hands and talk her through the injections as she can automatically swipe at you when you give the injections
f) Administer the water injections into the skin, it’s intra-dermal, not sub cutaneous, not under the skin. The idea is to raise a little bleb which stretches the skin and sets off the receptors
g) Leave the area alone! the sting is the thing, if you rub it, it will lose its effectiveness.
h) The Swedish midwives give four injections, either as four in a row across the back, or on the four points of an inverted trapezoid shape on the woman’s sacrum.

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Kelly Winder is the creator of, a writer, doula (trained in 2005), and a mother of three awesome children. She's passionate about informing and educating fellow thinking parents and parents-to-be, especially about all the things she wishes she knew before she had her firstborn. Kelly is also passionate about travel, tea, travel, and animal rights and welfare. And travel.


  1. DO NOT DO THIS! I had this and its the worst thing in the world. At the physio for the nee mothers 3 other women said they’d had it too and none of them would ever do it again. I cried for 10 mins after they did this to me, due to the shock of the pain. It hardly helped and hurt far more than the contractions. A midwife told me she git told ONCE it was good and hasn’t heard anything good about it since. Even the article says that if they did one at a time women wouldn’t get the second one, what does that tell you? Its not worth it at all.

  2. i had this yes it hurt being administered but the pain relief was amazing i had no back pain just contraction pain in the front even though it hurts like hell would i do it again probably not and epidural is less pain than this but ,after 13 hours of labour with no pain relief this helped for the last 2 hours of my 15 hour labour and the birth of a perfect little baby girl .

  3. I had this done. It hurt but it was well worth it. I’ve had back labor with all my kids and this last time was the first time anyone offered this. It took away most of the back labor! It was amazing … I was still in pain from the contractions but not lost in pain to awful Back labor.

  4. I work as a midwife at Belmont MGP and we find that sterile water injections work amazingly, particularly for back pain. I even have women coming back for the subsequent pregnancies asking if I still do them as they were impressed the first time. It does hurt, but the effect is amazing, and of course there is no drugs going into yours or the babies system. I actually had them for sciatic pain and they were so effective. Funny how so many people seem resistant to them but are happy to have a dr stick a needle into their epidural space and inject opiates!!

  5. Wow this seems amazing..i wish i had had the option to have this done with thr labour of my baby..i was in such incredible pain from back labor that even the epidural felt like a basic sting..this would have been the same and no crap going into my system…hopefully i have the option if i get pregnant again

  6. I had water injections in my back and lower belly during my labour. I think they’re amazing and highly recommend them. Yes, they hurt like hell, they’re only good if you have VERY bad pain during labour. But they don’t hurt for very long. They stopped my back pain for just under 2 hours before it slowly came back. I had the injections in the front when they were wearing off in the back.

  7. I had epic back pain, and contractions all in my back!
    I didn’t want any pain relief as I wanted to remember the birth of my son.
    I could not handle the pain any longer though, I had this to help with the pain, the pain of the water going in was pain I have NEVER EVER felt in my life, hurt more then pushing my son out!! But I must admit my pain level went from 9/10 to 4/10. Did help a lot with my back pain.

  8. I had an awful experience with water injection. It shell shocked my body… 4 needles were excruciating and worse than my contractions! I’ve never been stung by wasps so never really thought it would be the worst pain I’ve ever felt! I was upset and crying for about 30mins after it. My back pain eventually lessened and so did my contractions. Everything stopped. No contractions for about 2 hours. The doctors had to come in and then I had them sweep and stretch me and that’s when everything started back up… fast and violently! This was baby #4 and I always have fast natural births all in morning before 7am within a few hours of getting to hospital… this baby was born after 5 full hours and after 9am!! It was the most painful and traumatic birth I’ve ever experienced. I will NEVER get water injections again. I was very upset following the birth and dots not enjoy my hospital 1 kight stay either. These hospitals are very pushy to kick you out even on the first day if you have no major complications.

  9. My 4th child was posterior and I was having the most horrific back labor, dialated to 9 cm for 12 hours with nothing new happening. The back pain started to become completely unbearable and I was losing control. The midwife offered these injections. Yes they stung like hell, but the pain quickly went away and so did my back pain! I would definetly recommend these, especially if it means avoiding an epidural or other medical intervention.

  10. I had an injection with my first pregnancy and it was amazing how quickly it worked! They warned me that the needles would sting but I just took deep breaths as it’s administered during contractions so I was already aching. I had a second dose but it wasn’t able to take the ache fully away because half hour later I pushed baby out so nothing was going to really help the pain 🙂

  11. Hi all! I am really interested to learn haw to apply this method. However, I cannot open the link that you cite in the bottom of the article. Could you please guide me by reposting that link or tell me to whom I could adress?

  12. I had a 28 hr labor and in the last 2-3 hrs the baby was still posterior, almost had a c-section until my Dr brought a midwife as last resort. My back pain was awful with my history of herniated disks and the midwive offered these shots to me. She said they hurt but compared to the pain I was in (regardless of the epidural I had) it was tolerable and it worked perfectly. They did 4 shots 2 at a time and I was able to push out my baby in about an hr still facing posterior and kinda crooked. I would definitely do them again and recommend them to whoever needs it for their back pain during labor.

  13. I had these and really appreciated them. Apparently I have a high pain threshold but even so I was in terrible back pain during labour. These stung at first but not much worse than contractions, and took away all the back pain I’d felt to that point. Will definitely look into this again.

  14. I had these back in 2014, they were incredibly painful, I screamed a horrific horror style movie screen as tears poured down hubby face… the back labour pains stopped it was good but the pain of getting them I am unsure I would ever do it again, I’ve been sting by wasps and wasn’t that painful. The pain if over quickly but I won’t lie these are not a walk in the park.

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