Use of Saline or Heparin Locks for Mothers in Labor

A mother is waiting for cesarean section at hospital.
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There are many things that will happen in the hospital as a matter of routine. Even if something is done as a routine, it has implications for your labor and birth. One such routine intervention is the saline lock.

What a Saline or Heparin Lock Does

The saline or heparin lock is a type of vein access that is used for many low-risk mothers in labor at a hospital. It allows immediate access to the vein in the event of a complication, to delivery IV pain medications like Stadol, Demerol, etc., should the mother request epidural anesthesia, require a cesarean section (c-section) or have a postpartum hemorrhage.

This IV catheter can also be used to deliver other medications like antibiotics for brief periods of time should the mother be group B strep positive or have had her water broken for more than 18 hours.

Some hospitals have a protocol to only use saline in the IV, this keeps the IV flushed and opened. Some hospitals still use heparin, a blood thinner, as they are starting this type of IV access. This is not always the case.

Saline or Heparin Lock Considerations 

Since the saline lock can be converted to a full-scale IV at any point, such as if a mother requests an epidural or is in need of IV medication or fluids. Often written into the birth plans of mothers wanting and natural childbirth, a saline lock is used to provide the access in case of emergency, but the mobility that mothers desire. Be sure to talk to your doctor or midwife about what their preference is and what your preference is before labor starts. 

Sometimes if they are placed in the back of the hand, it can make getting into different positions in labor difficult. This is why some women will prefer to have the saline lock placed where they can bend their hands a bit more. Part of this will depend on your preference, and part of this will depend on where your veins are located. Sometimes your body isn't as cooperative as you would prefer and you wind up getting the IV placed in a less than ideal spot simply because of your anatomy. 

How a Saline or Heparin Lock Is Administered

When starting a saline lock, your hand, wrist, and arms will be looked at by the nurse to determine where the best vein is located. Don't hesitate to speak up if you know what works well or if you have a preference.

Once the area has been selected, it will be cleaned. Your nurse will put a tourniquet on. The nurse will also be wearing gloves to protect you from germs and to prevent your blood from touching them. A small puncture will be made with a needle and the needle will be removed, leaving a tube called a catheter that is very small and flexible. This will be securely taped in place. 

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