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Anesthesiology. 1998 Jul;89(1):79-85.

Effect of epidural fentanyl on neonatal respiration.

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Anaesthetic Department, St. Thomas' Hospital, London, United Kingdom.

Erratum in

  • Anesthesiology 1998 Dec;89(6):1615.



The addition of opioids to epidural infusions for laboring mothers may reintroduce the problem of neonatal depression seen with systemic opioids. The authors studied neonatal respiration and neurobehavior in newborns of mothers randomized to receive epidural analgesia with or without fentanyl.


One hundred thirty-eight women in labor received loading doses of plain bupivacaine. When pain-free, they received an infusion of either 0.125% bupivacaine alone or 0.0625% bupivacaine with 2.5 microg/ml fentanyl. After delivery, transcutaneous oxygen tension and carbon dioxide tension were recorded in the newborns every 10 s until 90 min after delivery using a transcutaneous oxygen-carbon dioxide monitor. Umbilical venous and arterial acid-base status, Apgar scores, and Neurologic and Adaptive Capacity Scores 2 h and 24 h after delivery were measured. The umbilical venous plasma fentanyl concentration was correlated with indices of neonatal respiration and welfare in the fentanyl group.


One hundred fourteen newborns delivered vaginally were studied. In the fentanyl group, the mean (range) maternal dose of fentanyl was 184 microg (range, 53-400), and the umbilical venous fentanyl concentration was 0.077 ng/ml (range, <0.021 to 0.244). There were no significant differences between the groups for any indices of neonatal respiration or neonatal welfare, and the plasma fentanyl concentration did not correlate with any of these indices.


The results suggest that fentanyl added to epidural bupivacaine infusions during labor does not depress neonatal respiration or adversely affect neurobehavioral scores and other indices of neonatal welfare.

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