While labour and childbirth is a beautiful and natural experience for any new mum, it can also be painful. This is why it is important to understand your pain relief options well before those contractions start.
Non-medical Pain Relief
Many women choose non-medical pain relief techniques, particularly early on in their labour. Here are a few of the most common options:
- Applying heat can help to relax tense muscles and provide some welcome relief from labour pain. A hot water bottle or heat pack on your back or stomach can significantly reduce pain in either area; if you do choose to use a heat pack, check your hospital’s policy on heating these up in a microwave (as some clinics may not allow it).
- Deep, rhythmic breathing can also help you through even extremely painful contractions, as focusing on your breathing will help to relax your muscles as well as distract your mind.
- Massage from a partner or midwife is a great way to relax your muscles, reduce pain and relieve anxiety at the same time.
- Lying in water can help lessen the impact of contractions by easing sore muscles and taking pressure off your back. It has been found that women who spend more of their time in water during labour don’t require as much pain relieving medication during the labour and birthing process.
- Changing positions can also assist in some pain relief, as can a strong foundation and understanding of what your body is going through; if you’re unsure, heading to a antenatal class is highly recommended.
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a technique that stimulates the nerves in your lower back to help decrease pain. The best part of this method is that you can use a hand-held device to control how much stimulation you receive and when you want it. TENS can also be combined with other forms of pain relief.
Medical Pain Relief
As labour progresses, the pain will often intensify, making medical/pharmaceutical pain relief a popular and sometimes necessary option. These are three of the most common medical pain relievers:
- Gas and Air (Entonox) – Commonly known as laughing gas, Entonox (which is half oxygen and half nitrous oxide) will help take the edge off of the intense pain that comes with contractions. Many women prefer it because not only can they control how much they have and when, but it is also safe for the baby.
- Pethidine – Administered through an injection or IV, Pethidine is a strong pain reliever and muscle relaxer that is somewhat similar to morphine. Once taken, it remains effective for between 2 and 4 hours, but often requires anti-nausea medication at the same time as it can make you feel sick or nauseous. Pethidine is generally used in the early stages of labour, as it’s not good for the baby’s health if taken too close to delivery.
- Epidural Anaesthesia – The most effective pain relief available is the epidural injection. This is used both for vaginal births as well as caesarean sections and eliminates pain by injecting medication into the lower area of the spine. It works by dulling the nerves that carry pain signals from the uterus to the brain. Overall, it will make your belly, back and legs feel numb and relaxed, even though you’ll still be conscious of the contractions and birth.
Childbirth can be an exciting yet painful experience, but talking to your doctor, obstetrician or midwife about your pain management options will make your experience of childbirth a lot less stressful – and much more special.
Are you unsure about what pain relief methods are right for you?
Dr. Matthew Wilson is an experienced obstetrician and gynaecologist at the Norwest Private Hospital, and can help you develop a strong pain management plan for labour and delivery.
Book your appointment here.