Pain relief options during childbirth

As someone who has attended thousands of births, there is one thing that they all have in common – they are all different! Having a baby is a natural process, and many women give birth with no medical intervention. But there is pain and discomfort involved, which is affected by:

  • The intensity of the contractions
  • The size of the mother’s pelvis
  • The position and size of the baby 
  • The length of the labour
  • Tiredness, anxiety, and other factors

The more you understand the process, the better prepared you will be, so I recommend attending childbirth and antenatal classes. These will educate you on the different methods of coping with pain. Another step is to get plenty of regular exercise to strengthen your body for the birth.

When labour comes, there are several non-medical pain relief methods which many women find helpful, including:

  • Relaxation exercises, often supported by music
  • Breathing techniques such as controlled breathing
  • Massages and backrubs – an important role for your partner
  • Changing position, taking a walk, keeping mobile
  • Yoga, meditation or hypnosis
  • Acupuncture by a trained practitioner
  • Having a shower or bath
  • Using heat packs, or TENS machines

There are also a variety of medical pain relief options, including a nitrous oxide gas. This is not a strong pain reliever, but it acts quickly, is safe for the baby, and allows women to cope with the contractions.

Pain killers such as morphine and pethidine can be given by injection. These will not affect your contractions, but they can cause side effects to both mother and baby, which are minor and easily dealt with.

A further pain relief option commonly used is an epidural, numbing the nerves in the lower half of the body without leaving you sleepy, affecting your brain or altering your breathing. This involves injecting anaesthetic into the epidural space in your spine. Usually a continuous infusion is set up, providing a constant trickle of local anaesthetic which will keep the pain at bay, but allows some mobility and use of the legs.

Finally, remember that this is your day - your labour. The choice of techniques you use to manage pain is up to you. You will be supported. Be prepared to be flexible, go with the flow, and consider the advice of your care-givers, as this most amazing event progresses. Best of luck!