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Managing pain during labor

There is no one best method for dealing with pain during labor. The best choice is the one that makes the most sense for you. Whether you choose to use pain relief or not, it is good to prepare yourself for natural childbirth.

Natural Childbirth

The pain felt during childbirth is different for every woman. Some women choose natural childbirth, or giving birth without medicine for pain. If all goes well, it can be a great experience.

If you want to deliver without medication, take a childbirth class. Childbirth classes teach breathing and relaxation techniques. The techniques can help you relieve pain naturally during birth. And, they can add to the relief you get from medication if you choose to have it.

For some women, the techniques learned in childbirth classes are enough to relieve their pain. Other women may choose to use pain medicine during childbirth.

Pain Medicines for Childbirth

A systemic analgesic is a pain medicine that is injected into your vein or muscle. This medicine acts on your entire nervous system rather than just a certain part of your body. The pain may not completely go away, but it will be dulled.

With systemic analgesics, some women have an easier labor and feel more relaxed. These medicines usually do not slow down labor. They also do not affect contractions.

But, they make you and your baby drowsy. Some women complain of feeling like they lose control.

An epidural block numbs or causes a loss of feeling in the lower half your body. A doctor injects the block into the lower back. This lessens the pain of contractions and makes it easier to deliver the baby through the vagina.

Low doses are given because it is safer for you and the baby. Once the medicine takes effect (10 - 20 minutes), you should feel better. You may still feel some back or rectal pressure during contractions.

Local anesthesia (pudendal block) is a numbing medicine that your doctor injects into the vagina and rectal areas when you are close to delivery. It lessens the pain as the baby passes through the numbed the area. You will also have this kind of block if you have an episiotomy.

Plan and Be Prepared

Keep in mind that a plan is just a plan. Be flexible when you are planning for your labor and delivery.Things often change when the actual day arrives. Many women decide before going into labor to have natural childbirth. Later, they change their minds and decide they want pain medicine after all. It is okay to change your mind.

Other women plan on pain medicine, but they arrive at the hospital too late. Sometimes the baby is born before the woman can get pain medicine. It is a good idea to go to childbirth classes and learn about breathing and relaxation techniques, even if you plan to get pain medicine.

Talk to your doctor or midwife about the different types of pain relief for your labor and delivery. The health and safety of you and your baby come first, so there maybe one type of pain relief that your doctor recommends for you over others. It is good to know all of your options so you can make the best plan for your labor and delivery.

Update Date: 8/16/2012

Updated by: Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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