Pain Relief During Labor

What can I do to help with the pain of labor and childbirth?

There are several ways to help relieve the pain of labor contractions (the tightening and relaxing of the uterine muscle) and childbirth. In the United States, the most common ways to help decrease the pain of labor and birth and narcotic pain medications and epidural anesthesia. There are also a variety of complementary therapies used to help with the pain and discomforts of labor and birth. These include hypnosis, acupuncture, massage, reflexology, and position changes during labor. Some techniques may be learned and practiced in childbirth classes, and other techniques involve more lengthy practice and preparation.

How are narcotic pain medicines used in labor?

Narcotic pain medications (for example: Demerol, Morphine, Stadol) are often given during early labor, to provide temporary pain relief. For early labor, these medications are given as an injection into the buttocks muscle. The same medications may also be given through the intravenous (IV) route during active labor. These medications are safe to use, but may make you and your baby sleepy during labor, but can wear off quickly. If delivery happens quickly after a woman receives narcotic pain medication and the baby is born quickly, the baby’ breathing efforts may be reduced from the drug effect.

What are complications or side effects from narcotic pain medicines?

As with any medications, there may be side effects. For narcotic pain medicines, the most common side effects include nausea, vomiting, a feeling of dizziness or lightheadedness, skin rash or itching. The pain medication often causes relaxation or sleepiness.

What is Epidural Anesthesia?

An epidural is sometimes called “regional anesthesia,” which means feelings of pain from a part of the body (in this case, from below the waist) are blocked while a person remains conscious or awake. Local pain relief is given in a safe space of the spine through a tiny tube that is connected to a medication pump filled with numbing medication, which numbs the nerves from the uterus to the birth canal (vaginal opening). When the nerve impulses are blocked, there is decreased feeling in the lower half of the body. With the numbing effect, the labor contractions of birth are barely felt.

When will the epidural be placed?

The epidural is usually placed when a woman is in the active stage of labor, but can be placed any time the mother requests pain relief through this method. An epidural can also be given before a cesarean section delivery.

What are the benefits of epidural anesthesia?

A woman can be awake, alert and comfortable in labor and childbirth. The reduced discomfort can help women to rest during labor. If other medications or techniques are no longer helping, rest and pain relief from an epidural can help her relax, and get re-focused. Complications and side effects are rare.

What are the possible complications of an epidural?

It is required that the woman who receives an epidural will stay in bed, and she will have several monitors attached for the rest of her labor to monitor her baby. Women often have catheters in the bladder when having an epidural. The medications used may decrease the mother’s blood pressure, which can be recognized and treated. A woman’s back may be sore from the injection for a few days or more. Sometimes an epidural does not work effectively and a woman may still feel pain, or pain on one side. A woman may not be able to know when to push effectively after an epidural is given, so pushing the baby out may take longer than if there was no epidural in place.

After delivery, having an epidural may result in being unable to move for a time after birth, and the inability to pass urine for a short time. Less than one in 100 will suffer from a bad headache, which can be treated with medication. Serious complications are very rare, but any procedure carries a risk of complications.

What is general anesthesia?

General anesthesia is faster to start than an epidural or spinal, so is used ONLY in an emergency when time is important. An anesthesiologist will give medication either via an IV line, or by way of a mask where the woman inhales a gas that makes her sleepy and unconscious. If you have ever had any problems with general anesthesia, it is important to tell the anesthesiologist, even if you are just planning to have an epidural. The anesthesiologist will stay by your side during general anesthesia, monitoring all your vital signs continuously, and help to reawaken you when the procedure is complete.

This information is for educational purposes only, and is not intended to replace the advice of a trained health care professional. Please discuss your further questions about pain relief during labor with your midwife or doctor.