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Pain relief in labor

Labor and birth is always an unpredictable and unique experience for every woman. It is impossible to judge how the process will feel for you until it begins. While some women find that they are able to give birth without the aid of medication, others prefer to request an epidural as soon as they arrive at the hospital. To help you understand your options during your baby’s birth, here are the main methods of pain relief in labor.


1Entonox (gas and air)

Entonox is a mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide, which is inhaled through a mask or mouthpiece at the beginning of each contraction. Although it does not remove pain altogether, many women find that it makes contractions more bearable and can also act as a useful distraction. Entonox is a popular choice as it has no negative affects on the baby and can be safely used in combination with other pain relief options.


Using a warm bath or birth pool during labor can reduce pain, help you feel significantly more relaxed and allow you to remain active throughout the experience. Water is now commonly used in both home and hospital settings, although if you are planning to use a hospital birth pool you will need to be prepared for the possibility that it may already be in use when your labor begins.


TENS (short for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) is a small battery powered machine that attaches to your lower back via sticky pads and produces electrical pulses that block pain messages to your brain. The machine can be controlled via a dial and adjusted according to the level of pain relief required. Some women have stated that the distraction of fiddling with their TENS machine helped them to cope with their contractions. TENS is not known to produce any side-effects for momm or baby and can be bought new or second-hand, or hired privately, with many hospitals and chemist chains now offering TENS hire.


A growing number of women are turning to relaxation techniques and hypnosis for pain relief during labor. Those who would prefer to have an unmedicated birth often find the use of relaxation techniques to be essential and extremely beneficial, with many women reporting an increase in self-confidence and a reduction in both pain levels and tiredness. However, these methods of pain relief can have mixed results depending on preparation and practice given to the technique during pregnancy.


Opiate-based drugs, such as meptid or pethidine, can be injected by a midwife into your thigh or bottom. They will begin to take effect after about 20 minutes and usually last between two and four hours. These drugs are intended to aid relaxation, which can help to lessen pain. They are commonly available at home, in birth centers and in hospitals. However, opiate based drugs do cross the placenta and may lead to your baby being unusually sleepy for several days after the birth, which may cause problems with early breastfeeding. This method of pain can also make you feel drowsy, nauseous and disconnected from what is happening around you.


An epidural is a regional anesthetic that is administered via a fine tube inserted into your back. It numbs the nerves around your stomach and for most women will provide total pain relief. Epidurals are only available in hospitals and must be given by an anesthetist, which can mean a long wait for you if they are busy in theatre. Sometimes epidurals do not remove pain entirely and may only work in one spot or down one side, which can be very demoralizing. Unless you are able to have a mobile epidural, you will need to remain on your bed until your baby is born and may need to have a catheter inserted into your bladder. One in 100 women also get a headache after having an epidural.

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