Giving birth is no easy thing!
What usually scares women most is the fear of the pain.
How bad is the pain of childbirth?
Can you handle it?
What can they give you in the hospital to make it a bit easier?
This is a guest post from Liesel from Labor Teen to answer the tough questions about managing pain during birth!
This post may contain affiliate links. You can see our full disclosure here.
Table of Contents
Popular Ways to Manage the Pain of Childbirth
What exactly can you do to make those contractions a bit easier during labor?
Many moms think that receiving an epidural during labor is the only way out! (It’s not) In fact, there are MANY different options women have to deal with labor pain.
In general, there are two types of drugs…
Analgesics decrease pain without loss of feeling or muscle movement, and anesthetics decrease pain by blocking most feeling (but not all), including pain.
Pain management options during childbirth can be either systemic, regional, or local.
Systemic medications affect your entire body, local medications affect only a small area of your body, and regional medications affect a region of your body.
Nitrous Oxide is becoming more and more popular in the U.S., in fact, the hospital I currently work at has used it for over a year! Nitrous Oxide is an odorless, tasteless gas that has a calming effect during your labor.
From my experience, it seems to make women “not care” about the pain from labor, rather than take it away. It almost makes you forget you are having contractions.
If you choose Nitrous Oxide during your labor, you’ll need to be monitored for about 20 minutes before initiation. After this, your nurse will hook up the tubing to the wall, and give you a mask you can control yourself.
For best practice, I usually advise my patients to apply the mask and breathe deeply at the very beginning of feeling a contraction (if at all possible, a few seconds before it even starts).
It’s important to keep the mask on during your entire contraction for maximum effectiveness.
It’s also important to realize that if you choose an additional IV medication for labor pain, or choose an epidural, you won’t be able to use Nitrous Oxide in conjunction.
Many women like Nitrous Oxide, but many women do not! From what I have personally seen, you either love it or you hate it!
IV Pain Medications
Next up, IV pain medications! There are a few different systemic IV pain medications that can be given during labor, but they all kind of do the same thing…
My hospital uses Fentanyl, a short-acting opioid narcotic. It’s about 100 times stronger than morphine. (If you’re familiar with the effects of morphine).
We like to give Fentanyl during labor because not only is it strong, but it’s fast-acting, and its duration is short. Fentanyl only lasts about an hour, and sometimes it’s all a mom needs to get her through the worst part of labor.
Just like Nitrous Oxide, you’ll also need to be monitored with IV med use, and your nurse will also need to check your cervix before administration.
If we give Fentanyl too close to delivery (say, if you are 9 or 10 centimeters), it can cause respiratory depression in your baby after delivery. That’s why we need to know what your cervix is before we give it!
Fentanyl is also nice because it offers mom some relief from contraction pain, but most moms are still able to move around in the bed and change positions on their own (unlike with an epidural).
Fentanyl can also make you feel drowsy/dizzy/nauseated, so your nurse will probably stay pretty close so you don’t fall!
A pudendal block is a form of anesthesia that is not very common anymore. I’ve seen it only a handful of times in my practice, as epidurals are becoming more and more popular.
A pudendal block is a local anesthetic that is given into the pudendal canal where your pudendal nerve is located. This is positioned deep in your pelvis, right next to where baby is fixing to come out!
This large nerve is responsible for any feeling you have in your perineum (aka your vagina/anus).
The procedure is typically done to reduce rectal pain from pushing. It will not do much to take labor contractions away.
If desired, your doctor will insert a large needle into your vaginal/anal region, where the pudendal canal is located, and inject a local anesthetic (typically Lidocaine).
It works pretty immediately and will numb your vagina and bottom right before you begin pushing.
Just like any procedure, it’s not a cure-all. You’ll still feel pain from contractions as you are pushing, and you will also still feel pressure.
What it does take away, is the rectal pain you experience as you push. It will also make any vaginal repairs much easier after delivery if you tear during birth.
This is a great option for women who cannot receive epidurals for medical reasons. With that said, it does take a willing and skilled provider to perform this procedure.
Also, THIS IS A LARGE NEEDLE, so if you’re choosing NO-epidural for needle-fear reasons, this is probably not for you.
Ahh, epidurals. The favorite among many moms!
Receiving an epidural during labor is a wonderful way to relieve labor pain. In fact, out of all the options listed, it’s the most effective.
This means, an epidural will take away ALL of your contraction pain (if it’s working right), whereas other pain management techniques will only take away some.
Epidurals are not perfect, nor are they not for everyone. I personally chose to go epidural-free during my labor, and it’s totally a decision that should be made by you!
An epidural is a regional anesthetic that will block pain, temperature sensations from about your waist down.
It’s a full procedure, and you’ll need to sign a consent form and be explained the risks and benefits of epidural use before placement.
Unlike IV pain medication or Nitrous Oxide, getting an epidural is a process. It’s not a quick fix. In fact, once you ask for an epidural, it will be about an hour before you are completely pain-free.
First, we must start an IV line on you (if you don’t have one already), give you extra fluids, and draw some blood word.
Next, the anesthesiologist will come to see you, perform an assessment, and consent you for the procedure.
During the procedure, you’ll sit up on the side of the bed, and it usually takes around 10-15 minutes from start to finish.
After you’ve been taped up, and given your first dose of medicine through your epidural catheter, it takes an additional 15 minutes for you to feel the full effect.
Most epidurals these days are dosed so that you may move your legs, but you may need a bit of help moving around in the bed. Some moms are dosed quite heavy, or may have a one-sided epidural, and may not be able to move their legs at all.
Epidurals are generally safe for mom and baby, but they do come with a few risks. The main risk is a decrease in your blood pressure, which can be dangerous for baby.
We anticipate this happening, and there are a few steps that we take BEFORE you even get your epidural (like loading you up with extra IV fluid), and we have medications at the bedside just in case a big drop happens afterward!
Have you heard of Hypnobirthing? It was created by Marie “Mickey” Mongan, M.Ed., M.Hy., a highly awarded hypnotherapist and Harvard University Ford Foundation fellow.
This delicate perspective of labor takes the standpoint that both mother and baby’s bodies were made for labor, and they work together in harmony.
Through targeted breathing, visualization, prompts from their partners and birth comfort measures, moms can prepare their mind to evoke a profound unwinding reaction on demand. You’re basically training yourself to go into a deep meditative state.
Rather than feeling pain, HypnoBirthing moms frequently depict the experience as feeling pressure and say phrases such as “rushes” or “surges” rather than contractions.
At the center, yes—it’s a mental game, and a large number of ladies have demonstrated it works. Curious? Check out hypnobirthing on YouTube
A hot bath or shower can do WONDERS for labor pain.
There is a reason why a warm tub has been called “nature’s epidural”! Warm water not only decreases pain, but it also loosens up your pelvic and abdominal muscles which can help you dilate faster!
I had TERRIBLE back labor with my son, and all I wanted was a hot shower stream pounding on the small of my back.
Most hospitals (and virtually all birth centers) are very receptive to water therapy during labor, as long as you and baby are stable!
And finally, change up your position!
I also go by the rule of “don’t do the same thing for more than thirty minutes at a time”.
Most natural mamas have no problem aligning to this rule (they usually do it on their own), but sometimes with my epidural mamas, I have to remind them that a position change can do wonders if they are uncomfortable (or stalled).
Depending on which position baby is lying, you may find that hands and knees, squatting, or side lying is very comfortable. I’m also a big fan of sitting backwards on the toilet and putting a pillow on the top, you can lean against the tank!
Labor is also one of the most intense workouts your body has ever done, and it’s important to prepare your body for this throughout your whole pregnancy.
Stretching and doing mild exercise will do WONDERS for your labor experience. Check out some yoga moves to help keep you lose and limber for the big day!
And remember, one position might feel good for a little while, but you may find that after thirty minutes or so you’re starting to get uncomfortable!
How did you manage your labor pain? There are so many different options for mamas, and it’s important to know what you can and cannot do!
*This has been a guest post from Liesel from Labor Teen. She is a labor & delivery nurse and has an awesome site dedicated to helping you have your best pregnancy and birth!
My Favorite Pain Management Birth Course
If your worried about managing pain during birth, I took a course I think EVERY woman should time before giving birth. It’s called The Kopa Birth Course. It is amazing!
She focuses on showing you what to expect, and the secrets of reducing pain naturally during birth using special techniques.