Labor Pain Relief: Understanding Your Options

When it comes to labor pain relief you may have more options than you think. Many people believe that they only have two choices: take the epidural or deal with the pain. There are actually quite a few different ways to relieve  labor pain. Some involve medications. Others use natural methods of reducing pain. Understanding your options before you go into labor can help you make an informed decision that you can stick to while you’re in the throes of pain.

Medical Options for Labor Pain Relief

  • Epidural – this is one of the most common  medical labor pain relief options. It involves injecting medication via a needle into the epidural location just outside your spinal column in your lower back. The medication typically takes about 10-20 minutes to start working. It usually doesn’t significantly interfere with labor or your ability to push. In some cases, you can even still walk around after having an epidural. Sometimes, though, an epidural can cause your blood pressure to drop. This, in turn, may reduce your baby’s heart rate. The Mayo Clinic explains that it can also block your bladder function. If that happens, you may need a catheter. Headaches and difficulty breathing are other potential side effects of an epidural.
  • Spinal Block- With a spinal block,  medication is injected directly into your spine. It is commonly given before a c-section. From personal experience, I can tell you that you basically feel paralyzed from lower chest down to your toes. It is an incredibly odd sensation. You may still feel tugging, but if it works right, you don’t feel the pain. A spinal block has side effects similar to an epidural. It can decrease your respiration or make it difficult to breathe. The needle hurts going into your back. Really hurts. If you’re already experiencing severe labor pain, though you may not feel it as much.
  • Opioid Medications – Narcotic pain medications may be given orally, intravenously or through an injection. These medications don’t actually block pain.  They simply trick your brain into thinking you’re not really experiencing it. Side effects include drowsiness, nausea and decreased respiration for you and your baby. You may also get a severe headache after the medication wears off.
  • Nitrous Oxide– The same “laughing gas” commonly used by dentists can also be used to help control labor pain. Like narcotic medications, it doesn’t actually relieve the pain. It just makes you too loopy to really care about the pain. The one nice thing about nitrous oxide is that it can be re-administered multiple times during your labor. Unfortunately, it can also cause dizziness and drowsiness, making it more difficult to find the energy to push.

Non-medical labor pain relief options

  • Self-soothing-Soothing yourself to relieve labor pain requires educating yourself in advance about what to expect and developing a mental plan to cope with the pain. Walking around a bit can help relieve some of the pressure, as can changing positions. Breathing exercises are also beneficial. If you are planning on using self-soothing techniques, it may be beneficial to attend a birthing class during your mid to late pregnancy.
  • Water therapy– Being in the water during labor can help relieve some of the pain. Some hospitals have special hydrotherapy bath tubs that expectant mothers can use. The water should be kept at or below your normal body temperature, or 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (36 degrees Celsius).
  • Massage therapy– A massage from your partner or massage therapist can help relieve labor pain quite effectively, according to a study performed by Ilam University of Medical Sciences. If your partner will be performing the massage, it is a good idea take classes or at least study up on the most beneficial techniques long before your labor begins.
  • Distraction- For some people, labor pain can be significantly relieved simply by having a distraction. Music or television can help take your mind off the pain. This one is iffy, though, so be sure to have a backup plan.
Summary of a few of the most common labor pain relief options.

Important factors to take into consideration

Every woman is different. Your pain may be much worse or much milder than the woman in the room next door to you. Preexisting medical conditions and complications during labor can cause alterations to your original plan. If this happens, it is NOT a failure on your part. Many women make a firm decision early on to avoid all medical labor pain relief, yet the pain becomes too intense to hold out. Others decide early on that an epidural is the way to go, yet change their mind when they realize the labor pain isn’t nearly as bad as they thought it would be.

It is okay to change your mind. The goal is to be as educated as possible about your options so that if you do change your mind, you know what to expect. It may help to create a labor pain management plan long before you feel those first signs of labor. Research all your options, then create a list of your preferred pain relief options in descending order. For example, start with self-soothing techniques or another form of natural labor pain management. If something comes up and you need medical intervention, tell your doctor which you’d prefer.

One more thing, and this is important: this article is not intended as medical advice. Talk to your doctor about which options are available to you based on your own medical history. Never, ever, ever take medical advice from the internet. Use it as a guideline to help you start a conversation with your doctor and to educate yourself, but don’t let it be your deciding factor.

What labor pain relief method did you use during your delivery? Was it effective? We’d love to hear from you!

8 thoughts on “Labor Pain Relief: Understanding Your Options”

  1. I think medical interventions are unnecessary in about 95% of births, women’s bodies know what to do, but we are told by TV and OBs that we have to have this or that. It’s really sad that women don’t even try to birth without interventions these days. However, when they are truly needed it’s nice to have several options.

  2. I have had both of my children naturally and pray that I can make it there with 3.0. I was able to walk and hold the baby right away. Each person is so different and for me the hardest was the last hour during my transition from a 6-10 in dilating (which happened in about 15 minutes).

  3. I had both a natural and one with an epidural. My natural childbirth was by far the easiest one. Less recovery time and quicker delivery. My sons birth was long and a struggle.!

  4. I fall into that category of people who thought there were only 2 options. This is super informative and something that all expecting moms should know about.

  5. Very informative! There really are lots of labor pain options, but I don’t think a lot of pregnant women realize this. Often time they only know what their doctor shares with them. It’s always good to look at your options and then make an informed decision.

  6. I was in labor with my twins for 24 hours, the first 12 I used HypnoBirthing and massage which worked to a point, but once I got pitocin I got an epidural. Good thing, as my twins were 4 hours apart.

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