Pain Relief Options for Labor

by Patricia Hughes

Childbirth is painful. That is a fact of life. However, there are many ways to deal with the pain of childbirth. Investigate your options early in your pregnancy. Learn about drugs available for pain relief and spend some time learning natural methods of pain relief. Keep you options open. You don’t know how you will react until labor begins. The more you know about the various methods of relieving pain, the better prepared and less fearful you will be as your due date approaches.  
Natural Pain Relief Methods 
If you take a childbirth class, you will learn a variety of techniques for natural pain relief. Breathing techniques to help relieve pain are often taught in these classes. The methods used will vary according to the class you take. The Bradley method uses deep breathing techniques, similar to breathing in sleep. The Lamaze method uses patterned breathing. It’s important to practice these during pregnancy to be prepared. 
Relaxation techniques are used in the Bradley method. You are taught to lie in a relaxed position on your side as you would when you go to sleep. Starting from your feet and working up to your head, you will learn to relax each area of your body. Once you are completely relaxed, you will learn to locate any areas of tension and relax those areas. Tension interferes with the progress of labor and leads to more pain. Learning to relax your muscles helps decrease pain and you learn to work with your body. 
Hypnosis for childbirth classes teach you how to relax. In these classes or with CDs you will learn to hypnotize yourself. You will still be able to hear what’s going on and participate in the birth, but will be completely relaxed. Many women find this method eliminates the need for medication. You can learn in sessions with a hypnotherapist or with a home study course. This needs to be practiced throughout the pregnancy to be most effective. 
Spending time in the water is a great way to reduce pain naturally. Most birthing centers and many hospitals offer a labor tub. Some allow you to actually give birth in the water. The water increases buoyancy, which reduces pressure and helps pain. This method can also lower anxiety and discomfort. 
Changing positions can help reduce pain. You will learn a variety of positions to try during labor in your child birth class. Squatting, leaning on your partner, sitting on a birth ball or lying on your side can help. If you get very uncomfortable, try to change your position. You can find more information on the various positions with a good book on natural child birth, such as Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way.  
Medicines for Pain Relief 
Medications such as Demerol or Stadol are administered through an IV. These medications don’t take away all the pain, but will dull the pain. This can help you relax through the contractions. If you are getting very tense and can’t relax, but don’t want the epidural, this can be a good option. They may help you relax between and during the contractions. These shouldn’t be used too close to the delivery, as they can make the baby lethargic. They may make you sleepy or dizzy.
The epidural completely blocks pain. An anesthesiologist will administer this through a catheter that is placed in your lower back. There are a few different types of epidural. The traditional epidural will numb you from the waist down. The walking epidural is relatively new and will still allow you some movement in your legs. Your anesthesiologist will be able to tell you what is available in your situation.  
In some cases, the epidural can slow down labor. This can result in the need for Pitocin to help produce stronger contractions. Some women have trouble pushing with the epidural because they don’t feel the urge to push. If this happens, they can turn down the epidural when it’s time to push. Some say the epidural may increase the risk that you will need a c section if labor doesn’t progress. Opinions differ on this. Some women experience a drop in blood pressure. You will be given IV fluids to prevent this. One possible side effect of this pain relief method is a spinal headache. These are very severe, but remaining on your back with pain medicine can help.
Make sure you discuss thoroughly all the different pain options with your physician during your pregnancy to determine what will work best for you. 
If you have a natural birth, but need stitches for an episiotomy or tearing, you may be given a local anesthetic. This is given with a shot in the perineum to numb the area before the doctor stitches you. There are no side effects to this method of pain relief.
Patricia Hughes is a freelance writer and mother of four. Patricia has a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from Florida Atlantic University. She has written extensively on pregnancy, childbirth, parenting and breastfeeding. In addition, she has written about home décor and travel.

No part of this article may be copied or reproduced in any form without the express permission of More4Kids Inc © 2006

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