Pain Relief in Labor

Labor and childbirth is inevitably painful. However, there are effective options for pain relief in labor available to make the whole process less painful.

Last Updated: 22 October 2020

Pain Relief in Labor
Pain Relief in Labor

During your childbirth classes, you will become familiar with the different pain-relief options that your hospital or birthing centre provides. It is important to be fairly aware of the circumstances each of these pain-relief options will be used, their side effects and efficacy. You can make an informed decision about which ones you think you will or will not prefer, or feel comfortable with and let your doctor and the hospital know. Said that labor is different for every woman, it is also better to be open with your birth plan.

Pain relief in Labor using Medicines

The commonly used pain medications during labor are:

·         Epidural anesthesia

An epidural is a local anesthetic administered to a pregnant mother during labor in order to ease the pain in the lower part of the body. On an epidural, one will still be awake and alert to proceed with the normal birthing process. It is also given for a C-section delivery.

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An epidural is given as an injection of an anesthetic dose on the lower back. You will sit with a slight forward bend or lie on your side with your legs curled towards your inside. The anesthesiologist will then insert the needle on the lower spine, into what’s called the epidural space, outside the spinal cord and spinal fluid. Followed by the needle, a catheter will be passed through after which the needle is removed.

The medication will continue to pass through the catheter during the delivery. It may take anywhere between 10 to 30 minutes for the anesthetic to take its full effect. You will start to feel the loss of sensation in the lower part of your body but you will still be able to feel your contractions without the pain associated with it, helping you to push the baby.

·         Injections of pain relief drugs (pethidine, meptids, diamorphine)

Unlike anesthesia, pain-relieving drugs are analgesic in their action, that is, they lessen the pain associated with labor but do not cause loss of sensation. Most of the drugs used for labor pain management belong to a group of drugs called opioids. They are administered intravenously into the buttocks or thighs of the pregnant mother during labor.

Pain medications may cause nausea, vomiting, respiratory difficulties or drowsiness in some pregnant women. So, these drugs are avoided during the second stage of labor when the mother needs to be actively pushing the baby out.

In some cases, pain-relieving drugs may also cause breathing problems in the newborn soon after delivery, in which case, a counter drug has to be injected to the baby.

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Pain relief options without medicines

·         Breathing and relaxation techniques

Practicing slow, deep breathing has been shown to help alleviate pain during labor. It can calm you and relieve you of the anxiety that increasing contractions may lead to. In the weeks or months preceding your due date, you must check with your antenatal classes if breathing techniques are offered. You can also check other childbirth methods like Lamaze or Bradley, outside of your hospital, to learn effective breathing techniques.

·         Nitrous oxide and air (Entonox)

A gaseous mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen when inhaled through a mask over the face by the pregnant mother is known to relieve labor pain. You will be able to hold the mask and control when you want to inhale and how long you want to. As a side effect, some women may feel nauseating or dizzy intermittently.

·         TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation)

TENS method involves using a small machine that connects electrodes to a battery powered source over the body. During the early stages of labor, placing the electrodes on your back can help relieve pain. However, the device isn’t ideal to use in the later stages of labor.

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TENS method works by sending nerve signals to the brain to generate higher levels of natural painkillers, the endorphins. Not all hospitals provide TENS. If you want to use this method of pain relief in labor, you must check with your hospital or buy one on your own to begin practicing towards the end of your pregnancy.

·         Using a birth ball

A change in position during labor can bring about pain relief. When the pregnant mother is in labor pain, using a birth ball to lean on, to rock on or bounce on it gently can help in relieving backache. It is a good idea to check in advance if your hospital is providing one.

Alternative labor pain management

Other alternative methods for pain relief in labor which are not popular though effective in pain management when learned by proper source include:

·         Self-hypnosis

·         Acupuncture and acupressure

·         Aromatherapy


·         Reflexology

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