A pregnant woman giving birth while being supported by husband.

Understanding Pain Management During Labor

Our grandmothers might have told us that their children just fell out of them during labor and that they didn’t feel any pain at all. And then there are also those lucky few that actually have very easy deliveries. Unfortunately, we can’t all be the same, no matter how much we wish we could. Labor doesn’t have to be horrible though. There are tons of methods and processes you can undergo to make it very bearable.

Why is it important for you to know your pain management options beforehand?

  1. You need to know the exact details about how pain management techniques and medication work so you can make an informed decision.
  2. You need to communicate your choice to your physician or OB/GYN before your due date so he/she will be able to raise any valid objections to it, if any, based on your medical history.
  3. You will need to find out if the hospital or birthing center you’ve chosen has facilities to accommodate the pain management option you’ve chosen. For example, if you choose to have a water birth, you have to make sure that your hospital/birthing center offers water births. If not, you may have to switch to another hospital/birthing center if it’s really that important to you.

Pain Management Options You Can Choose From

Natural Techniques

  1. Acupuncture: This is an ancient Chinese practice that has now been accepted worldwide as a great and very safe way to relieve pain and relax a woman during labor. It involves the insertion of numerous thin needles at specific points on the body. It should be done by a licensed acupuncturist.
  2. Acupressure: Acupressure is very similar to acupuncture, but instead of needles being inserted, pressure is instead applied on these particular spots and zones.
  3. Breathing: Breathing techniques can be used during labor to help you relax and cope with contractions better. While there are numerous methods, most require you to focus on your breath and breathe rhythmically.
  4. Color therapy: This practice utilizes color vibrations and frequencies to aid pain relief and healing. In it, light derived from color is used to balance out energy that a person’s body is missing. It is also known as chromotherapy and can be used in conjunction with other pain relief options.
  5. Distraction: This simply entails using your sense of sight, sound, touch, or smell to distract yourself from the pain. You could direct your focus on anything- words, art, or even music.
  6. Massage: Relaxing muscles and relieving stress can help some women in labor better manage labor.
  7. Reflexology: It’s an old form of healing based on the belief that certain parts of our body like the ears, feet, and hands are linked to particular organs and glands. It works by applying pressure to certain zones on the hands and feet and can be done at any point during the labor to relieve pain and speed up the process.
  8. Hypnotherapy: Also known as hypnobirthing, this procedure is reported to reduce labor pain and average labor length. It is done through hypnosis, leveraging on the belief that fear leads to tension which then leads to worsened pain. So, getting rid of labor fears is at the crux of this technique. While further research is still needed to evaluate the actual effects that hypnosis has on labor pains, there’s no doubt that it has a position in natural pain management.
  9. Meditation: This works similarly to hypnotherapy in that the main aim is to help you get rid of your fears about labor pains. Because every woman’s labor is different, the type of meditation engaged in will vary. It could entail chanting, visualization, measured breathing, reflection, or just listening to music.
  10. Water Birth: This is the process of giving birth in a birthing pool that’s filled with warm water. Countless women have reported that having a water birth helped to greatly reduce the pain they experienced. A physician or midwife must assist you through a water birth as it can be risky.
  11. Bath/Shower: A similar concept to water birth, some women prefer to give birth in a warm bath or shower in an attempt to relieve pain experienced during labor and relax.
Pregnant woman lying on a hospital bed with electronic monitor tracking health indicators.

Medical Techniques

  1. Demerol: This is a type of narcotic medication women are given to help with the pain of the contractions. It is given via injection and acts immediately. Demerol is only given in specific situations because it makes you sleepy/groggy and can cause nausea, vomiting, and blood pressure problems. It can also affect the baby.
  2. Classic Epidural: This is one of the most common methods of pain relief. It is a type of anesthetic that blocks pain in a particular area of your body. It is injected through a catheter that’s placed around your spine. This process almost completely eliminates labor pain. Once labor is over and the catheter is removed, you may experience back pain and continuing numbness. It’s important to note that epidurals have many potential side effects.
  3. Walking Epidural: This is similar to the classic epidural in some ways but a lower dosage of anesthesia is used, and it is combined with a narcotic. Unlike a regular epidural, a walking epidural is performed to lessen contraction pain to a bearable level instead of completely numbing you. As a result, some women find they can walk around after having one. It is also associated with some serious risks, but substantially less than with the classic epidural.
  4. Spinal Block: In this option, an anesthetic is injected directly into the spinal cord- a catheter isn’t needed. It provides immediate relief but unfortunately, it does not last longer than a few hours. Spinal blocks are associated with difficulties pushing during the last stage of labor, low blood pressure, and in rare cases, convulsions and nerve damage.

Other Things You Should Consider

Once you’ve selected the pain management option you feel is best suited to you, it’s best you put it down in your birth plan.

You should also make sure that your partner and family members are well versed in the contents of the birth plan. This is so that in the event that your birth plan is not available, or your medical care team is changed in the middle of labor, they will be able to communicate your wishes on your behalf.

Every labor experience is unique and beautiful in its own way. It is a precursor to the arrival of a new member of your family. At the end of the day, the way you decide to manage your labor pain is solely up to you and your family.


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