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Midwives aim to reassure pregnant women as Israel faces epidural shortage

The Israel Society of Anesthesiologists warns the Health Ministry that the country could be out of epidurals as early as next month

Illustrative image (Photo: Courtesy, Israel Midwives Association)

The Israel Midwives Association disseminated a public letter on Friday reassuring pregnant women that in the event epidurals are unavailable – which is expected as early as next month – “midwives all over the country know how to offer many solutions to deal with labor pains.”

"There are many other solutions and medicinal measures, such as laughing gas, pethidine and other pain relievers that are given through the vein but no less important and helpful,” said Osnat Levy, a midwife in the delivery room at Hillel Yaffe Medical Center and the head of the association. “Movement, water, touch, guided imagination, breathing exercises and support from a midwife all help reduce pain.”

The open letter came in response to concerns from the Israel Society of Anesthesiologists that hospitals in Israel will not be able to offer epidurals during childbirth as early as next month.

The society sent an urgent letter to the Health Ministry dated Oct. 4 warning that Israel’s epidural supply was severely waning due to a severe global shortage of epidural anesthesia kits. The story was first reported by Israel’s N12.

In the letter, available here in Hebrew, society members explained that Israel’s shortage would be a direct result of an announcement made last spring by American company Portex, which produces 80% of the epidural kits in the world. The announcement stated that Portex was experiencing difficulties in production due to lack of raw materials because of the Russia-Ukraine war.

The doctors explained that epidurals do not require simple needles, but special equipment that allows the anesthetic to be injected into the epidural space surrounding the nerve canal between the membranes of the spinal cord.

The United Kingdom, the United States and Canada have also all expressed fears of shortages.

While every year, about 70,000 to 80,000 Israeli women who give birth use an epidural, according to the society, there are around 100,000 women who do not, the Midwives Association noted. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, approximately 170,000 births take place in Israel per year.

"The Ministry of Health is aware of the fear of a shortage of epidural kits, and is examining the alternatives,” it said in a statement in response to the N12 report. “We will do everything necessary to find additional alternatives and continue the activities of the medical teams as usual."

"The fear of a shortage is rocking the world of many pregnant women,” midwife Levy said. “The knowledge that an epidural is available provides peace of mind, even to those women who are planning a natural birth.

“But remember,” she continued, “the difficult part of labor does not last more than a minute at a time, and we are there to support you, to breathe with you and to hold your hand during these difficult moments.”

Read more: MEDICINE

Maayan Hoffman is a veteran American-Israeli journalist and strategic communications consultant. She is Deputy CEO - Strategy & Innovation for the Jerusalem Post, where she also served as news editor, head of strategy and senior health analyst.

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