pregnant woman in hospital bed

Kemal Yildirim/E+ via Getty Images

Labor pain control: a little relief

Everyone knows giving birth is no walk in the park, but there are lots of safe and healthy ways to manage the pain. You might handle pain differently from the women around you, so consider that anything from deep breathing to powerful painkillers could be the most helpful coping mechanism. Your options might become more limited as the delivery progresses, and your healthcare provider may have the ultimate say on what solutions are safest for you and Baby. Don’t hesitate to ask for some extra relief, even if it is through gritted teeth!

The most well-known desensitizer is anesthesia, which can be administered into a vein or muscle as:

  • Local anesthesia: Normally used for vaginal incisions if the opening is too small
  • General anesthesia: Puts you to sleep prior to or during delivery, usually used only in emergencies
  • Regional anesthesia (epidural): One of the most well-known solutions to labor pain, an epidural is injected with a catheter as needed in the lower spine to reduce the pain while you are awake. This is also commonly used in C-sections.

Women may also have the option for IV pain medication that isn't as long-lasting as an epidural, but can provide short-term pain relief, and is safe for both you and Baby. However, this medication isn't an option when delivery is imminent (dilation greater than 8 cm).

Regional anesthesia is generally safe for you and Baby, and your healthcare provider will determine the best time to administer it if you want it. It should start working about 15 minutes after it is injected and can be delivered almost as much as necessary for the duration of your delivery. You will feel very little pain and only light pressure from contractions. The epidural will make pushing more comfortable and shouldn’t slow the birth too significantly.

Side Effects

Although rare enough that most women will still choose to use some sort of labor pain control, there are still a few possible side effects of anesthesia:

  • Low blood pressure: Your BP will be monitored and treated with IV fluids or oxygen if it drops to a dangerous level to make sure that Baby is receiving adequate blood flow during delivery.
  • Headache: This is a very rare side effect, but some women have a sharp headache caused by spinal fluid leakage. It can be treated simply by drinking fluids, but your anesthesiologist may need to inject your blood into the epidural injection site if your symptoms get worse.
  • Nerve damage: This could occur as a result of direct damage from the needle, a blood clot, or infection.

If you are opposed to taking pain medications prior to or during delivery, look into relaxation techniques or soothing music that can distract you and help you feel in control. And don’t worry if your predetermined choices change during delivery - your comfort is very important and every woman’s birthing process is unique.

Learn more about pain management
Reviewed by Dr. Jamie Lo
Read more
  • DJ Baumgarder, P Muehl, M Fischer, B Pribbenow. "Effect of labor epidural anesthesia on breast-feeding of healthy full-term newborns delivered vaginally." The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. 16(1):7-13. Web. January-February 2003.
  • Committee on Obstetric Practice. "Analgesia and Cesarean Delivery Rates: Committe Opinion Number 339." ACOG. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 6/6/2015. Web.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. "Labor pain: Weigh your options for relief." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, 6/13/2014. Web.
  • Royal College of Anesthesiologists of Great Britain. "Side Effects and Complications of Anesthesia." DHA Hospitals. Government of Dubai, n.d. Web.
Get the Ovia Pregnancy app
Get our app at the Apple App Store Get our app at the Apple App Store Get our app at the Google Play Store Get our app at the Google Play Store