Managing labor pain: Many options, your choice
Getting through labor is hard work. When it comes to pain relief, the most important thing any pregnant woman should know is that whatever works for her and her baby is the way to go. The more you know about your options, the more relaxed and prepared you will feel.
Talk openly with whomever will be helping you through your labor about pain management options like the following. Which techniques would best suit you?
Different birth positions
Feel free to try different positions when you're in labor -- squatting, getting on all fours, sitting upright -- until you feel most comfortable. Some women say that it's almost as if their bodies tell them what position is best.
A common pain medication you've probably heard of is the epidural. Epidurals are regional analgesics, which reduce the feeling in certain parts of the body.
To give an epidural, the doctor places a small catheter (thin plastic tube) into your lower back. The tip of the catheter rests in the epidural space just outside the spinal cord. Pain relieving medicine then goes through the catheter and takes effect in about 10 to 20 minutes.
Many women choose epidurals because they can be awake and alert while giving birth, but their pain is controlled.
"I was much more comfortable after I got the epidural. I felt like I was cruising," recalls Clare. "The only problem was that it was hard for me to feel when to push. We all watched the monitors to see the contractions on the screen, and then my doctor would tell me when I needed to push."
Spinal blocks are injected into the spine. They take effect quickly, but last only a few hours. Like epidurals described above, spinal blocks also control pain while enabling women to be awake and alert during birth.
A doula is professionally trained to support a woman during labor. Doulas can talk you through the difficult periods, give you advice about different positions to try while you're in labor, bring you ice chips and generally help you to feel less anxious. Some doulas also help you when you go home with your baby.
If you're looking for a way to control pain without taking medications, you may want to investigate such alternatives as hypnotherapy, aromatherapy and acupressure.
- Hypnotherapy can help to reduce any anxiety you may feel about going through labor and teach you techniques for pain relief.
- Some aromatherapy oils, when used for massage during labor, can relieve pain and tension (See this issue's massage oil for labor recipe).
- Acupressure (pressing on certain points on the body) may relieve labor pain or speed up labor that is progressing slowly.
Epidural allows Mom to concentrate on what's important
Giving birth naturally: A gift beyond words
Pregnancy Condition Center: Labor
Month 8: Planning labor and delivery
Source: Allina Patient Education, What You Should Know About a Labor Epidural, ob-ahc-13214 (July 2004); Health Online, Inc.; Wesson N., Natural Mothering, Healing Arts Press, 1997
First published: 01/04/2000
Last updated: 10/14/2007
Reviewed by: Michael Slama, MD, Allina Health Mercy Women's Health Clinic