Pain during labor is caused by contractions of the muscles of the uterus and by pressure on the cervix. This pain can be felt as strong cramping in the abdomen, groin, back, pressure on the bladder and bowels as well as achy feelings. Some women experience pain in their sides or thighs as well.
How to manage labor pain
Labour pain can be managed with pain medicines or medicine-free ways.
Medicine-free ways to handle pain during labor include:
- massage or counterpressure
- changing position
- taking a bath or shower
- listening to music
- distracting yourself by counting or performing an activity that keeps your mind otherwise occupied
A variety of pain medicines can be used during labor and delivery, depending on the situation. Many women rely on such medicines, and it can be a huge relief when pain is quickly eased and energy can be focused on getting through the contractions. Talk to your health care provider about the risks and benefits of each type of medicine.
- Analgesics. Analgesics ease pain, but don’t numb it completely. They don’t affect sensation or muscle movement. They can be given many ways. If they are given intravenously (through an IV into a vein) or through a shot into a muscle, they can affect the whole body. These medicines can cause side effects in the mother, including drowsiness and nausea. They also can have effects on the baby.
- Regional anesthesia. This is what most women think of when they consider pain medicine during labor. By blocking the feeling from specific regions of the body, these methods can be used for pain relief in both vaginal and cesarean section deliveries.
Epidurals, a form of local anesthesia, relieve most of the pain from the entire body below the belly button, including the vaginal walls, during labor and delivery. An epidural involves medicine given by an anesthesiologist through a thin, tube-like catheter that’s inserted in the woman’s lower back. The amount of medicine can be increased or decreased according to a woman’s needs. Very little medicine reaches the baby, so usually there are no effects on the baby from this method of pain relief.
Epidurals do have some drawbacks — they can cause a woman’s blood pressure to drop and can make it difficult to pee. They can also cause itching, nausea, and headaches in the mother. The risks to the baby are minimal, but include problems caused by low blood pressure in the mother.
- Tranquilizers. These drugs don’t relieve pain, but they may help to calm and relax women who are very anxious. Sometimes they are used along with analgesics. These drugs can have effects on both the mother and baby, and are not often used. They also can make it difficult for women to remember the details of the birth. Discuss the risks of tranquilizers with your doctor.
Things to bear in mind when controlling labor pain
- Medicines can relieve much of your pain, but probably won’t relieve all of it.
- Labor may hurt more than you expected. Some women who had said they want no pain medicine whatsoever end up changing their minds when they’re actually in labor.
- Some medicines can affect your baby, making the baby drowsy or causing changes in the heart rate.