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Pain Relief in Labor: Natural and Medication Options

Intro

As your due date nears, you’ll likely have many of the details of your baby’s delivery hammered out. But a big decision might still be keeping you up at night: Should you use pain medications during labor, or go natural?

There are pros and cons to each method that you should discuss with your doctor. The good news is that there are plenty of options for pain relief during labor. The choice is ultimately up to you.

Natural childbirth options

natural birth
thumbs up Pros
  • There won’t be any side effects.
  • There are options for pain management like physical interventions.
  • It can take place at a birth center, home, or hospital.

Simply put, “natural childbirth” refers to giving birth without any medication. But this doesn’t mean you have to suffer in pain during labor. There are many “natural” options that can help.

Natural methods are often used in birthing centers or at home with a midwife, but they can also be used at the hospital.

The greatest benefit to natural childbirth is the lack of side effects from medications. While many women can take pain medications safely during labor, there is the risk of side effects for both mom and baby.

The downside to natural labor is that you don’t know for sure how painful the process will be (especially for new moms). In some cases, the pain might be worse than anticipated.

Natural childbirth options can come in the form of breathing techniques, complementary therapies, and physical interventions.

thumbs down Cons
  • There’s no way to tell how painful birth will be.
  • Pain may be worse than anticipated.
  • Sometimes breathing techniques and complementary therapies aren’t enough to alleviate labor pains.

Breathing techniques

Being mindful of the breath helps you increase awareness of sensations in your body. This can help you be more aware of contractions during delivery to prevent complications. Breathing is also a relaxation tool that can help you keep calm, especially when pain increases.

Breathing techniques during childbirth aren’t as dramatic as often portrayed in movies and on TV. The key is to take deep breaths.

Saying light mantras and honing in on images through mini meditations can complement breathing techniques to make labor more comfortable. Hypnosis is another viable option for women who have a low tolerance to pain.

Complementary therapies

Aside from breathing techniques and light meditation, other therapeutic techniques can help create a relaxing environment with reduced pain. You can ask for:

  • aromatherapy
  • sterilized water injections in the lower back
  • massages
  • acupuncture
  • yoga

Physical interventions

Sometimes breathing techniques and complementary therapies aren’t enough to alleviate labor pains. But before you request an epidural, you might try other techniques that work physically with your body. The options include:

  • asking your nurse or midwife to help change your position as often as possible, which can help distract your mind from pain related to contractions
  • lying down on a birthing/labor ball (similar to a stability ball)
  • taking a bath
  • using ice or heat pads on the back
  • walking (during the early stages of labor)

Medication options for pain relief during labor

medicated birth
thumbs up Pros
  • Most of process will be virtually pain-free.
  • The amount of medication administered from an epidural can be increased or decreased, depending on a mother’s preferences.
  • In extreme cases, doctors can administer anxiety-reducing medications.

If you prefer a guarantee of reduced pain during labor, you’ll want to consider medication options. It’s best to talk about these with your doctor ahead of time. You’ll also want to find out if certain medications are appropriate for you based on your health history.

The obvious pro to medications for labor is the pain relief. While you may still feel dull sensations during contractions, most of the process is virtually pain-free. The downside is that pain medications always carry a risk of side effects. These can include:

  • drowsiness
  • headaches
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • itchy skin
  • urinating difficulties

Pain medications may be transmitted to the baby, though this varies by medication type. Transmission may cause side effects in the baby.

thumbs down Cons
  • There may be side effects for the mother from certain pain medications, including drowsiness, headaches, and/or nausea.
  • Pain medications may be transmitted to the baby.
  • Your doctor might not recommend pain medications based on your medical history.

The most common forms of pain medications for labor include:

Epidural

An epidural is a type of local anesthesia that’s administered through the lower back. Pain is alleviated from the waist down in both vaginal and cesarean deliveries. The benefit of an epidural is that the amount may be decreased or increased upon request by the mother.

Note: Pain relief from epidural and spinal anesthesia aren’t passed through the placenta to the fetus, whereas IV analgesics and general anesthetics are.

Spinal block

A spinal block is similar to an epidural, but the medication is short-lasting (only an hour or so).

Analgesics

These come in form of shots or IVs. Analgesics affect the entire body.

General anesthesia

Medication that puts you completely to sleep. This is not typically used during vaginal deliveries. It’s only used in emergency situations.

Tranquilizers

Tranquilizers are often used alongside analgesics, and these medications are used for relaxation during extreme anxiety. Due to a high risk of side effects, tranquilizers aren’t normally preferred except for in extreme cases.

Bottom line

While it’s important to get all of the necessary facts you need to make a decision about childbirth, the choice is up to you. Only you can determine what is best for you during labor and, subsequently, what is best for your baby. It’s easy to become persuaded by horror stories from either side. It’s best to stick to the facts related to all of the options so you can make the most informed decision possible.

It’s also important that you discuss your decision with your doctor ahead of time. Not only will they be able to provide tips for both natural methods and pain medications, but you also don’t want to surprise them on delivery day.

In addition, there are ways you can alleviate pain before you go into labor. Exercising throughout pregnancy strengthens the body, and can increase your pain tolerance. Childbirth classes (such as Lamaze) can also give you tips to better prepare for your due date.

Make sure everyone involved with the child birthing process knows your plan so they can stick with it. To avoid confusion, always put your childbirth wishes in writing. It’s OK to change your mind one way or the other!

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