What are your pain relief options in childbirth? Childbirth does come with a certain amount of pain. How much it hurts will depend on your own pain tolerance, the position and size of your baby, etc. No one can tell you in advance what the experience will feel like for you. It’s best to decide in advance what your preferred methods are for pain management, but be open to these plans changing depending on the circumstances.
None of the information in this post should be used in place of medical advice. Always consult your healthcare professionals if you have concerns.
This is post 22 in my series, 31 days of tips for moms to be.
pain management via medications
Epidural during labor
Epidurals are probably the best-known form of pain management in childbirth. They work by blocking pain signals from being sent from your spine to your brain. The injection does go into your back. Depending on when you get it and how your hospital works you may have a button to control your own pain management or the doctors may take care of it themselves if you need more. You will also likely be given a catheter as part of the epidural process.
Walking epidural. These days there is also something known as a walking epidural that is available in some hospitals and situations. The normal epidural drugs are combined with other medications so that you can still move around after receiving the epidural. Generally, you are stuck in the bed after the epidural is started.
Side effects. There are possible side effects of epidurals such as headaches & back pain. Some women may also have an epidural that doesn’t take well or only takes on one side so that it’s less effective in blocking the pain. You can read more about epidurals in this article from the American Society of Anesthesiologists.
The medication used for an epidural can cross the placenta so your baby will receive some exposure to the medicine. Your baby may be less alert at birth and it may delay some bonding/breastfeeding.
My experience. An epidural was not in my birth plan. However, I ended up needing pitocin and got to the point where I needed some additional pain relief. Luckily my epidural went perfectly. I do think it may have prolonged labor and pushing a bit as I couldn’t feel as much. The epidural wore off shortly after my daughter was born and they had to give me some local anesthesia so they could stitch me up. I had no lasting effects from mine. The worse part was having to get the catheter and needing to have it removed afterwards.
Narcotics for pain management in labor
Narcotics are another option for pain management, though the relief is not as complete as with an epidural. They may help to “take the edge off” and are generally considered a next step if natural methods aren’t cutting it. I myself received Fentanyl before eventually progressing to an epidural. Personally, I don’t feel that it did anything to help and wish I had just gone with the epidural right away.
Narcotics like Fentanyl can cross the placenta and your baby will be exposed to the medication.
Nitrous Oxide (Laughing gas) for pain management in labor
Nitrous Oxide, or laughing gas, is a relatively new option and is not offered in many hospitals in the US. It was not an option where I gave birth to my daughter and that was at the state of the art Sharp Mary Birth hospital. It can be used at the mother’s discretion but also wears off quickly.
Unlike the other medicated forms of pain management, it doesn’t tend to affect the alertness of your baby like the heavier medications may do.
Natural techniques for labor pain relief
Most natural labor techniques center around breathing and visualization. These vary slightly depending on the style of birth class and the birthing method you decide to pursue. You can find out more about these different techniques in my post on childbirth classes.