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Birth & More | Pain Relief

Pain Relief during Labour and Birth

When going through labour and birth it’s essential to try your very best to relax and stay in control – both physically and mentally. There are a few different options to choose from when it comes to pain relief during labour and birth. Being aware of all the choices you have can help you make an informed decision that you are happy with, so let’s take a look at what’s available.


While some women want to have a completely natural birth, many opt for medication as pain relief during labour and birth. There are three main types of medication available at most hospitals – namely an epidural, gas and air and pethidine. An epidural is probably the most popular option and said to be the one that currently gives most pain relief during labour and birth. Another medication available is entonox, also known as gas and air, consisting of 50% nitrous oxide and 50% oxygen. You can breathe this gas in through a facemask when each contraction starts, and keep breathing it in until the contraction is over. Pethidine, on the other hand, is a morphine-like drug that can be injected into your bum or thigh. Pethidine helps you relax and even sleep during the first stage of labour. When you are near delivery, however, you can’t use pethidine as it might affect the baby. Although these types of medication might give pain relief in labour, they have side-effects such as drowsiness, slowed labour, nausea and light-headedness.

Prepare your body
It’s so important to prepare your body, both physically and mentally, for the major task that lies ahead. You should watch your diet, get some exercise every day and aim to be fit and ready in order to help your baby come into this world. Practice breathing and relaxation exercises and read up about labour and birth so that you have an idea of what to expect on the big day. Although preparing your body for labour and birth will not ease the pain you’ll feel during contractions, it will at least give you some peace of mind as to what to expect and how you can deal with it.

TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electronic Nerve Stimulation and is a battery-powered stimulation connected by wires to electrodes placed on either side of your spine. With a TENS machine you are able to control the stimulation your lower back receives to block the transmission of pain impulses to the brain. TENS also stimulates your body to produce more natural painkillers – such as endorphins. A TENS machine can be hired for a home birth, but can also be available to you in hospitals.

Giving birth in water is another option available for mothers-to-be. You can have a water birth at home with a private midwife or at certain hospitals that have birthing pools. With a water birth you will spend all stages of labour in a warm bath and can also deliver your baby here. Water has a calming influence on everyone involved and can benefit the mother-to-be in many ways. As water counteracts the effects of gravity, moving around is a lot easier and the mother-to-be feels more in control and can conserve energy. The welcome for your new baby is gentler, and a water birth can also reduce perineal trauma and eliminate episiotomies.

Non-traditional options
Non-traditional options include among others hypnosis, reflexology and acupuncture. Although these methods might not work for everyone or give complete pain relief in labour, they can have the power to help you relax and handle the situation better – if you just let yourself go with the flow. With acupuncture needles are inserted in your limbs or ears to block the pain impulses, while a woman who has been trained in self-hypnosis can use this technique to relax herself.

Relaxation and breathing
Most prenatal classes train you in relaxation methods and breathing. Women that are strong-minded can use this to help them get through labour – shifting their attention away from the pain. Power of the mind is an incredible tool; being in control mentally is a great way of dealing with the pain throughout the whole experience of giving birth.

There are also a few other pain relief options during labour. Using soothing music, dim lights, firm massage or heat/cold application to the lower back and the support and touch of a birthing partner can help ease the pain. Taking hot showers and making sure you keep hydrated can also help, and don’t forget to keep moving or walking around. Lying on your back is actually the most painful position during labour, so take the pressure off your back and use gravity to help your baby move down into the birthing canal.

By looking at the options available to you, you can at least prepare yourself for what’s to come and have some sort of idea of how you would like to experience labour and birth. Remember, however, that childbirth isn’t a test of endurance. You have not failed if you ask for medication.


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