If you’re getting ready for labor and delivery, you might be thinking about how you’ll cope with the pain. Every woman has a different experience with labor and pain, so there isn't a one-size-fits-all answer.
Some women prefer non-medication options. Others opt for an epidural or another pain relief medication. No matter what you choose, you have many safe and effective options.
Relaxation and non-medication options
You have numerous ways to relax and better cope with pain during labor. First, think about who you want in the room with you. A support person or doula can offer consistent encouragement to help take your mind off the pain.
Changes to the environment around you may also help. The National Institutes of Health says things like music, aromatherapy, or simply walking around can soothe pain. Many women also find a warm shower or bath helps them relax too.
To learn more about your options, look into prenatal classes at your hospital. Find a class that will guide you through breathing techniques, meditation, and labor positions. This will help you feel more prepared. They can also teach your labor partner how to best support you.
Some common opioids used during childbirth include morphine, meperidine, and fentanyl. These medications help by reducing—but not eliminating—pain. They’re usually given to you through an injection or an IV.
Opioids can have side effects for you and your baby. And they may not be a good fit for every mom. To reduce these side effects, the American Pregnancy Association says you’ll receive small doses. Your doctor may also avoid giving these medications to you during the end stages of labor.
Epidural and spinal block
Epidurals and spinal blocks are both regional analgesics, which means they block pain in only one region of the body—below your waist. An anesthesiologist gives these to you using a needle in your lower back. Spinal blocks last a couple of hours. Epidurals provide continuous medication throughout labor.
According to the American Family Physician, epidurals are the most common method of pain relief used during labor. In general, both epidurals and spinal blocks have fewer side effects for your baby than opioids. But they do come with some risks for mom, such as lowered blood pressure and nausea. In rare cases, they can cause spinal headaches, infections, or nerve damage.
Some hospitals may offer nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, during labor. You inhale this gas through a mask as needed. While it doesn’t take the pain away, it does help reduce anxiety so that you can cope with painful contractions better.
Nitrous oxide can have some short-lived side effects like dizziness or nausea. But the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) says it has a fairly high satisfaction rate, is easy to use, and is relatively inexpensive. According to the ASA, many moms who opt for nitrous oxide in early labor also have an epidural later.
Prepare for the unexpected
In the end, your first choice for pain relief may change when you’re actually in labor. And that’s perfectly normal. Moms who planned to use non-medication options may ultimately choose medication. Others who planned an epidural may not be able to get one due to quick labor or other factors.
That’s why it helps to learn about all of your options and prepare to be flexible. Your OB GYN can help you understand the benefits and risks of each option before it’s time to deliver. Then, when the time comes, you can focus on what’s most important: having a healthy, safe delivery.