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Pain Relief Options During Labour

When I went into labour I had no idea what pain relief I wanted to use and very little about what options were available. All I knew was that I wanted a natural birth but would keep an open mind.

picture of pain relief

There are many different pain relief options, I have written a bit about each type, some I can comment on from experience but others I have written about from knowledge that I have gained from research.

Breathing: Learning how to breathe deeply and calmly will help control the pain. A panicky breathing can restrict the oxygen supply to certain muscles which can increase the cramping and pain.

Visualisation: Another method that some people find useful is to try and focus on an object whenever there is a contraction. The idea of this technique is to escape the pain by concentrating on something other than the pain.

Water: Water supports your weight and can help you to relax. I had a bath and a shower and both of these eased my pain. Research suggests that getting into the water too early can slow down contractions. I have read that it is best to be 5cm dilated before you get in. Some hospitals have birthing pools that can be used during labour otherwise most hospitals have a bath for you to relax in.

TENS machine: The TENS machine uses a weak electrical current to block pain messages to the brain and to stimulate the body to produce endorphins, which are the body's natural pain killers. The TENS machine is attached to your back by four electrodes connected to a box which is controlled by yourself via a dial and a button. It is a good form of relief in early and mid labour but I found did not work in the final stages of labour.

Gas and Air: This is a mix of nitrous oxide and oxygen. It is administered by inhaling it at the beginning of a contraction through a mouthpiece or mask. It has no harmful effect on the baby. I had gas and air right up to the last stages of the labour and found it helped a lot. I don't know whether it distracted me from the contractions and gave me something else to concentrate on or whether it did actually relieve the pain. I would recommend to anyone to try the gas and air before opting for any other form of pain relief.

Pethidine: This is given in the form of an injection in the upper leg. It is a sedative drug and can take up to 20 minutes to work. The drug lasts for two to four hours. If it is given too close to the birth it can effect the baby's breathing. The pethidine crosses the placenta and in some cases can enter the baby's bloodstream causing the baby to be very sleepy when they are born. I had pethidine and it made me extremely drowsy and I found that when it came to the final stages of labour it was extremely hard to remain awake to push. My sister said that when she had pethidine it felt like the walls and ceiling were closing in on her. They had to give her a drug to counteract the pethidine. The only side effect that I had was the severe drowsiness. I think that although the pethidine made me extremely drowsy it did help get me through. I must add though I did have an extremely long labour of 27 hours so maybe if it was a shorter labour I may have coped without the pethidine.

Epidural: This involves injecting either local anaesthetic and a morphine-type painkiller into the lower back. It works by blocking the nerves that send pain messages to the brain. The disadvantage of an epidural is that you are connected to a drip and you may need a catheter to allow you to pass urine. Side effects include reduced blood pressure, increased risk of an instrumental birth and can cause headaches. The midwife told me as I was leaving hospital the day that I had the baby that if I had had an epidural then I would not be going home the same day as the delivery. I was also told that by having an epidural it can increase the chance of having to have a cesarean section. I think that this is due to the fact that you are unable to feel when to push and have to be guided by the midwives.

Whatever type of pain relief you choose is totally your decision. Every person is different and every person has a different pain threshold.