pain relief in labour

It's no secret that giving birth can be rough and that you may need pain relief in labour.

A lot of people know about epidural as a way to keep the pain under control, but there are other medical options to soothe you when going into labour. It’s better for you to know every alternative available, so that you can include the one or ones that fit best in your birth plan. However, don't forget that the outline may change in the process and, as a result, you could end up requesting or being offered painkillers that you hadn't planned to take in the beginning.

In this article, you'll learn everything you need to know, including pros and cons, about medical relief during labour. Let's get started.



Pain relief in labour: Gas and air

If you are going to antenatal classes, you may have heard of or even practised this technique, also known as Entonox. Behind such a weird name, there's a combination of half oxygen and half nitrous oxide that has a calming effect and that is used for labour very often. How? By just breathing it in through a mask or a mouthpiece when you feel a contraction coming (it takes about 20 seconds to work). Doctors suggest taking slow deep breaths in order to make it more effective.

The gas and air method is very convenient, since it's easy to use and it doesn't pose any risks to either you or the baby. Yet, it may not provide you with enough labour pain relief or, worse than that, it may make you a little sick: some women experience different side effects, such as light-headedness. If you happen to be one of them, you can just stop using it.


Pain relief in labour: Pethidine

Pethidine is a painkiller that is given by an intramuscular injection in your bottom or thigh, in order to combat the pain caused by contractions. Such a drug takes around 20 minutes to work and also has relaxing effects, which will help you feel a little bit rested from two to four hours (that's how long its effects last). Some hospitals and birthing centres administer diamorphine, another opiate, instead.

Though pethidine does give you pain relief, it can cause side effects that may make you sick or woozy, but they can also affect the labour rhythm. For example, it may be harder for you to push when trying to deliver and, what's more, your baby may have trouble breathing if you are given pethidine when he's close to emerge. In such a case, you'll need another drug to counteract pethidine.


Pain relief in labour: TENS machine

TENS machines are proven to be very useful to take the edge off back pain in the early stages of labour. You just need to stick electrode pads onto your lower back that are connected to a battery-powdered stimulator and that will deliver safe electronic shocks. This is thought to produce extra endorphins, considered natural painkillers.

Such machines don't have any known side effects, and you can even walk and do other activities while using them, which is great. The problem is that not all hospitals have them, so you may have to buy or hire one. Also, don't expect it to be very efficient during the active phase of labour, since it is designed to help you cope with early signs of labour.


Pain relief in labour: Epidural

And here is the most famous pain relief in labour! Epidural is a type of local anaesthetic that consists in passing painkilling drugs into your lower back, by injecting them into a fine tube that is connected near the nerves that carry pain signals from the uterus. It's set up in about 10 minutes, and you may notice its effects either right away or within the next 15 or 20 minutes. Basically, it numbs your body from the waist down for several hours, keeping you from labour pain with a very successful outcome. Sometimes, though, there are women who need additional pain relief after having an epidural administered.

It's normal for you to experience hypotension (a dip in your blood pressure), difficulty to pass urine and backache, for the next two or three days, after having an epidural.

One of the weakest points of epidurals is that they can slow the second stage of labour. As half of your body will be numb, you may not feel contractions, so you'll have to be told when to push. Eventually, if that doesn't work out, the doctor may need to use forceps or a ventouse to help deliver your little one.


Pain relief in labour: Spinal 

This is another form of regional anaesthetic that is also injected through the small of your back, around the spinal nerves. The anaesthetist will use a fine needle that, unlike an epidural, won't be attached to any tube. Spinals have an immediate effect against uterine contractions, but they also wear off before epidurals do.

Spinals are very commonly used during C-sections and also when complications arise, like episiotomies. Among the disadvantages of having a spinal, keep in mind that it can't be topped up, unlike epidurals. Also, it can cause itchiness and, rarely, severe headaches.


Pain relief in labour: Other techniques 

If you don't like any of these medical methods, you can try out natural ways to get pain relief during labour. You have options such as homeopathy, acupuncture, massage and even hypnosis, though there's not scientific evidence that they can soothe labour pain. Don't forget that you can also consider having a water birth, which helps your body relax, causing milder contractions.


Hopefully, we have helped you make up your mind when it comes to choosing the most convenient pain relief in labour. As you can see, there are plenty of options, but remember that you may not need any of them or, on the contrary, you may request even more than one depending on the circumstances. Anyway, it's good to know what awaits you before and after entering the birthing room, where pain doesn't necessarily have to ruin the experience of giving birth, unless you want to live it in a natural way.