Pain Control for Labor

Pain Control for Labor

Medical and natural ways to ease the pain.

“Labor” is the right term for what you go through when you have a baby — it’s a lot of work, and yes, it can be painful. Luckily, the reward is great, and there are several ways of coping with the pain. Each option has its own benefits and risks, so you’ll definitely want to talk about them with your doctor before the big day. And rest assured our expert labor nurses are here to help you every step of the way.

Epidural

An epidural is the most common form of pain relief during labor in the United States. An anesthesiologist gives you a quick shot of a local anesthetic, then inserts a thin catheter tube into the space just outside the membrane surrounding your spine in your lower back. Through this tube you receive a continuous dose of what is usually a mix of a local anesthetic and a narcotic. The effect is to block most or all of the pain associated with childbirth from your waist down, usually within minutes.

If you choose an epidural, you’ll need to stay in your bed, since you won’t have the use of your legs for a while. You can request an epidural at any time during early or active labor. However, if your labor is moving very quickly, there may not be time to get an epidural in place.

Once the birth is over, the catheter tube is easily removed and you’ll regain feeling in your lower half within about an hour or two. An epidural means an additional charge beyond labor and delivery, so you may want to check if your insurance will cover it.

Pros:

  • You’ll have continuous pain relief that leaves you awake and alert, and may give you the break you need to move forward in the birth process.
  • Reducing pain may make for a more positive birth experience.
  • An epidural in place would make it easy to administer anesthesia if a C-section became necessary, or if you want to have your tubes tied after birth.

​Cons:

  • You would be confined to your bed, and may need a urinary catheter.
  • The procedure carries a small risk of complications, such as a severe headache or numbness following the birth.
  • Some research suggests that epidurals cause sleepiness in the baby or difficulty with initial breastfeeding.
  • You may have difficulty pushing, given that you can’t feel your contractions as well.

Pain Medication

If you’d like some pain relief but don’t want or have time for an epidural, you may be given a systemic pain reliever. Through an IV or an injection into a muscle, your provider can give you a narcotic such as morphine, and possibly a tranquilizer to help ease some of the pain and anxiety of labor. The drug will affect your whole body — not just the area in pain — and you may feel sleepy as a result.

Pros:

  • A narcotic can take some of the edge off the pain without numbing your lower half.
  • Relief from pain during active labor may allow you to rest and prepare for pushing.
  • You’ll have pain relief that’s less invasive than an epidural, and doesn’t require an anesthesiologist to administer it.

Cons:

  • You may feel side effects such as sleepiness, dizziness, nausea, itchiness and disorientation.
  • Narcotics are not as effective as an epidural in relieving labor pains.
  • Given too early in labor, narcotics may slow the progress of labor.
  • Some amount of the drugs do cross the placenta to reach the baby, which may cause the baby to be sleepy, have trouble latching on for breastfeeding, and in rare cases, to have difficulty breathing.

Relaxation Techniques

Some moms choose to manage the pain of labor by finding ways to endure it without medication. This is what’s known as “natural childbirth.” Techniques include focusing externally on a special photo or object, moving into different positions, bouncing on a birthing ball, taking a shower or Jacuzzi bath, listening to music, or having your birth partner or doula give you a massage. Some moms prefer to focus internally, closing their eyes and visualizing each contraction moving the baby closer and closer to birth. Some envision a calm and peaceful place. Other techniques include focused breathing, which can help create a more relaxed (and well-oxygenated) state, vocalizing, or following breathing patterns to take your mind off the pain. You may find a combination of all these techniques helpful.

Pros:

  • Without any pain medication, you’ll likely need less monitoring and will have more freedom to move around.
  • There are no risks of medication side effects for you or your baby.
  • Moms who have chosen a natural childbirth often report a sense of accomplishment and a more positive birth experience.

Cons:

  • Even with these coping techniques, you’ll still feel the pain of childbirth.
  • A long, difficult labor may be more challenging without pain relief.

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