Your pain control needs depend on the length and difficulty of your labor and your individual pain perception. The following is basic information about available techniques for pain control.
Not all techniques are available at all hospitals. If you have any concerns, you should discuss them with your provider.
Relieving labor discomfort without medication
The amount of discomfort you will experience during labor and delivery will vary. Being prepared and having support will be most helpful for you. There are many techniques to assist you in relieving discomfort:
- Use relaxation and breathing exercises
- Stay well rested
- Keep eyes open; stay focused
- Use distraction: games, cards, music, television, videos
- Empty your bladder often
- Take a warm bath or shower
- Change positions often: walk, sit, stand
- Keep your mouth moist with ice chips
- Apply a cool, moist cloth to your face
- Use ice packs and back massages when needed
Some women find it helpful to attend classes that teach labor techniques. Some hospitals, clinics, and communities offer childbirth preparation classes that include information on these techniques.
If you are interested in this, you may wish to attend Lamaze® classes. The Lamaze® technique emphasizes pain control through relaxation, breathing, and visualization.
Some women use pain medication. Others try to avoid medications, but find them necessary.
You should never believe you have failed if you need pain medication in labor.
Here are the types of pain medications used during labor:
- Analgesia: Pain medications or sedatives that may be given intravenously or by injection. They rarely provide complete relief. Unpleasant side effects may include drowsiness, nausea, and difficulty concentrating. They are not given close to the time of delivery because they may slow the baby’s breathing and reflexes.
- Local anesthesia: Pain medication injected into the skin or tissues. These medications numb a small area for a short period of time. Commonly, they are used for episiotomies or repair of lacerations. They may also be used as nerve blocks, just before delivery of the baby.
- Epidural anesthesia: An effective technique to control the pain of labor and delivery. It requires the placement of a needle into the lower back through which a tiny catheter is inserted. The needle is then removed, and medication is given through the catheter. Most patients will still be able to feel their contractions, but they feel like a mild pressure, instead of pain. An epidural may also provide enough pain relief for an episiotomy or a cesarean section, if needed.
- Spinal anesthesia: Given as an injection through a needle placed into the back. The needle is then removed. It acts quickly to make the lower half of your body numb. It is usually used for cesarean sections, but may also be used at the time of delivery.
- General anesthesia: This is medication that puts you to sleep. Usually general anesthesia carries the highest risk for you and your baby. Under special or emergency circumstances, however, this may be the best alternative.