Many women are understandably apprehensive about giving birth due to fear of labor pain. It can be helpful to be aware of what to expect, and the available pain management options and to consider your choices before you are in active labor.
Non-Medical Pain Management
Some women decide to use non-medical measures to cope with labor pain. Every woman is different and each labor experience is unique, so it is best to experiment with a variety of pain management techniques to find out which ones work best for you. Slow, controlled breathing, massages to the legs and back, warm baths, calm music, and walking can help with pain during labor. Women who choose to deliver their babies without medication should feel confident to clearly communicate their experience and needs to their healthcare team throughout their entire labor.
If you want to give birth without medication, a predetermined plan is helpful, but you should also feel free to change your approach to your pain at any point during labor. Switching positions, using heat compresses, or sitting on an exercise ball may help, as will continuous encouragement and support of your partner, family member, or doula.
IV Pain Medication and Pudendal Anesthesia
While in labor, women have the option of receiving pain medication through an IV. This pain management option tends to work fairly well in early labor but is less effective later on. IV pain medication can cause drowsiness, and if given too close to delivery it can affect the baby’s breathing right afterwards, so the timing of the medication is important and dosing has to be precise.
Whether or not you have received IV pain medication, you can also have an injection inside the vagina to numb the area. This is called a pudendal block or a saddle block and it is typically given just before the baby is born. The pudendal block will help with pain related to delivery but it will have no effect on contractions.
Many women choose to have an epidural during their labor. An epidural is usually a combination of local anesthetic and pain medication injected into the space around your spinal cord. While there is no such thing as being “too late” to receive an epidural, if the labor is progressing rapidly, or it is time to start pushing, there may not be enough time to call for an anesthesiologist or have the epidural be effective.
In most cases, the side effects of an epidural are minor and will improve with time, but occasionally some women develop low blood pressure that affects the baby’s heartbeat. The anesthesiologist will discuss the symptoms and side effects of an epidural with you before you receive the medication.
Choosing Your Preferred Method of Pain Management
Pain management is a personal choice and there are many options to consider so it is not uncommon for women to still be undecided about which method they would like to pursue when they go into labor. While it is helpful to have a plan before you are in labor, giving birth is a dynamic event so it is absolutely appropriate to wait and see how your labor progresses before you settle on a form of pain management that works best for you. The goal is always the same: a safe delivery and the best possible birth experience for both you and your baby.