Learning about pain relief during labor is essential for every expecting mom, especially as the delivery due date approaches. There is no point in getting scared, worried or apprehensive of the idea of labor pain. You need to think and ask about labor pain during your pregnancy and learn how you will cope. Here you’ll understand the causes of labor pain and various available relief options from which you can choose in advance.
The severe pains that expecting moms generally feel during labor is due largely to; the contractions taking place in the muscles of the uterus, the pressure build-up on cervix as labor progresses, and the stretching of the birth canal during delivery.
Some women, who plan to give birth naturally without using any medications for pain relief during labor, prepare to cope and alleviate pain through different non-medical pain relief techniques.
Let us first consider the medical options that your doctor may consider. There are basically three methods that are commonly used for pain relief during labor:
· Analgesic drugs that are either administered by intramuscular or intravenous injection.
· Analgesics that are inhaled; involving nitrous oxide and oxygen gas.
· Epidural block, by injecting analgesic in the epidural or regional space through a special needle.
This refers to the systemic injection of a drug to all parts of the body for the purpose of pain relief. Analgesic drugs commonly used for pain relief during labor include Pethidine and morphine.
Although Pethidine is a synthetic analgesic that has low efficacy than morphine, it has less side-effect on the respiratory system of the baby, even though nausea, emetic vomiting and drowsiness are possible side effects.
Morphine, however, is seldom used for pain relief during labor because it could interfere with the baby’s breathing especially when administered very close to the time of delivery.
If any of these drugs affect newborn’s breathing, doctors usually give “naloxone” as an antidote to reverse the effect very quickly. So, in any event of injected analgesic drug, you and your baby’s safety can be guaranteed.
This method of pain relief is more quick and effective as compared to analgesic drug injection. Inhaled analgesia is given in the form of Entonox which is a mixture of two gases namely; nitrous oxide and oxygen.
When labor pain begins, this gas is administered through a mask on the nose of the woman and she breathes the gas through the mask, which she holds for herself, throughout the contractions. This method has proven a good option for pain relief during labor for many women, but it doesn’t eliminate pain totally.
Since the analgesic effect it provides is short-lived, it is most commonly administered late into labor progression or while waiting for an epidural analgesic insertion. The adverse effects caused by inhaled analgesic, especially if breathed in too much, are nausea, sleepiness and light-headedness.
Unlike inhaled and injected analgesic, this method of pain relief during labor is usually given from the first stage of labor progression. An epidural is a special kind of local anesthetic procedure known to be a reliable and effective means of providing complete relief from labor pain.
A local anesthetic is used to numb the nerves which carry the feelings of pain from any point in the birth canal (uterus, cervix, vagina, and rectum) to the brain.
During an epidural, you sit up or lie curled up on one side, a flexible plastic tube (catheter) is inserted through a needle into your lower back and threaded down into a space outside the nerves of the spina cord. Then the needle is taken out.
The tube is held in place on your back by a piece of sticking plaster. The analgesic is then injected down the tube and, stays in position in case you need an analgesic top up. The analgesic starts to work in about fifteen to twenty minutes.
An epidural can be very helpful for some women such as those who are having a long labour or who are becoming very distressed. But there are disadvantages. Some of the side effects of epidural include; heaviness in the legs, discomfort and difficulty in urinating.
Also, since you can no longer feel your contractions, the midwife has to tell you when to push rather than you doing it naturally. This means that it can take longer to push your baby out. This method of pain relief demands continuous fetal monitoring and complete check on mother’s blood pressure.
Another technique similar to epidural analgesia is spinal analgesia in which catheter is inserted not in the epidural space but in a place outside the nerves of the spina cord - the subarachanoid space that contains cerebrospinal fluid. This method may be used in emergency Cesarean -section but definitely not for pain relief during routine or normal delivery.
Combined spinal-epidural analgesia has also become quite popular due to its effectiveness in relieving pain during labor.
There are options for pain relief during labor that do not involve medications. These include relaxation and breathing exercises, homeopathy, hypnosis, yoga, specialized massage, relaxing in warm water, acupuncture etcetera. You will get to know about these techniques while you attend prenatal classes or in a childbirth classes.
Other pain relief options include pudendal (vaginal) block, paracervical block and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) which are rarely used nowadays. However, these don’t guarantee lasting or total pain relief.
Anxiety and worry make things worse, now that you understand how your labor pain can be adequately alleviated, you can be confident and feel in control when you approach labor.
Throughout your labor experience, don’t hesitate to ask any questions on pain relief during labor and to ask for whatever you want. Work with your doctor or midwife, as they work with you. All of us at PregnancyMama wish you a successful and pain-free childbirth experience.