Before labour starts it’s worth thinking about how you’ll manage the pain.
Make sure you know well before birth how pain relief works and how long it can take to have an effect. You may have to make choices when you’re in labour when it’s harder to think clearly.
Your birth plan will include your choice of pain relief. Your birthing partner should also know what you want, so they can help you make these choices.
You can choose to use:
Your midwife can tell you about the different types of pain relief. You’ll be able to talk about your choices in antenatal classes too.
Self-help techniques are non-drug pain relievers. The most common of these are breathing and relaxation techniques, which you can learn in your antenatal classes.
Other methods of non-drug pain relief include:
If you don’t want to use drugs when you’re in labour, then these types of pain relief could be a good choice. They also put you in control which can give you a feeling of empowerment.
Breathing and relaxation techniques help you cope with pain, but not be overwhelmed by it.
Pain often feels worse when you’re tense and anxious. When you’re relaxed, your body releases its own hormone-like pain relievers called endorphins.
By learning some relaxation techniques you can help to prevent pain becoming too intense. That way, you’ll be fully conscious and in as much control of your labour as you want to be.
Birthing pools and lying in water can also help.
There are no real down sides to using breathing and relaxation techniques. But they may not work well enough if your labour’s long or complicated, or if it’s more painful than you thought it was going to be.
To use a TENS machine:
If you want to use TENS, ask your midwife where you can hire or borrow a machine.
Some midwives are trained to use aromatherapy in labour. If you want to use acupuncture or acupressure during labour you can. Your midwife will respect your wishes.
You may need a specialised practitioner or equipment to help you with some kinds of complementary therapy pain control.
Hypnobirthing is a mixture of:
It doesn’t work for everyone, but can help you focus on your body and the birth of your baby.
Gas and air helps to ease the contraction, and the pain relief lasts as long as you keep breathing the gas.
Gas and air is a mix of 2 gases – nitrous oxide and oxygen. You might hear it called Entonox® or Equanox®.
You can have gas and air wherever you’re giving birth.
Gas and air:
Gas and air:
Gas and air:
Morphine and opioid drugs are strong, effective painkillers.
You can have these drugs wherever you’re giving birth. However, because they can sometimes have side effects for your baby, they’re less likely to be used if you’re having a home delivery.
Morphine and opioid drugs are usually given as an injection into a big muscle, such as your buttock or the top of your leg, and:
Morphine and opioid drugs work quickly and last for a few hours.
Morphine and opioid drugs can:
Opioids can affect your baby’s breathing when they’re born, particularly if you have them too close to the birth. If you’re about to give birth your midwife or doctor might suggest you don’t have them for this reason.
Opiods can make your baby sleepier and less interested in feeding for the first 24 hours. You may need to wake them to feed.
If you have opioid drugs 4 or more hours before the birth:
You can have opioid drugs given by a pump connected to your drip, which you control yourself with a button. It has a safety lock to reduce the chance of any side-effects. This is called patient-controlled analgesia (PCA).
Some hospitals offer it:
You may need some extra monitoring as it can:
The effects of PCA wear off very quickly though. Because you’ll be attached to monitors and a drip, you may not be able to move around as freely.
An epidural is a small tube inserted into your back to deliver pain-relieving medicine.
The aim of an epidural is to ease the pain of labour while still letting you:
An epidural can work well but it’s also the most complicated pain relief and needs to be put in by an anaesthetist. That means you can only have an epidural in an obstetric unit in a hospital.
During an epidural medicines are put through the tube and into the area around your spinal nerves (the epidural space). This blocks the feeling of pain in your lower body, but you can still feel:
You’ll also have:
Most women can have an epidural. But you may not be able to have one if:
Your midwife or doctor might suggest an epidural if:
Talk to your midwife about speaking to an anaesthetist if you want to find out more.
More about epidurals and anaesthetics in labour
About 1 in 10 epidurals don’t work perfectly at first. If yours doesn’t work, you may need to have it adjusted or replaced.
An epidural can:
If you’ve had an epidural you’re more likely to need an assisted delivery with forceps or ventouse. This is because:
More about helping your baby to be born
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3 November 2023