Many women want to know about the pain-relief options available during labor and delivery. Pain-relief options are highly evolved and can offer a lot of relief to women who choose to use them. They range from using simple breathing techniques to different types of medication. Some women decide well in advance what kind of pain-relief options they want to use. The best advice is to educate yourself about all available kinds and make your decisions as you go through labor.
Breathing and Relaxation Techniques
If you take a childbirth education class, you will learn a variety of breathing and relaxation techniques you can use during labor and delivery. The key to success with these techniques is to practice and become familiar with them in advance. The techniques are very successful in relieving pain and keeping the mother focused.
Analgesics and Narcotics
These medications provide temporary pain relief during labor through an intramuscular injection. Common medications are Demerol, Nubain, Stadol, and Sublimaze. These dull pain but do not remove it. These drugs are useful for relieving anxiety as well as pain.
An epidural is the continuous injection of pain-relieving medications into the epidural space in the spine. The catheter is taped to your back, and the amount of medication delivered can be dialed up or down depending on your sensation or need to push. A low-dose epidural, also called a walking epidural, allows full movement while reducing pain.
Pain relief with an epidural can be uneven, with more sensation on one side than the other. Pain relief is not immediate and may take time to work. More than 50 percent of all U.S. births involve epidurals. The risks involved with an epidural include low blood pressure and slowed labor.
There is considerable controversy regarding epidural anesthesia during labor, as to whether it poses risk to mother and baby, or whether it slows down labor and increases the need for vacuum or forceps delivery and C-section. In skilled hands, epidural anesthesia can be extremely beneficial and safe.
As with any medical intervention during labor, the decision on its use should be individualized according to the mother, baby, and the situation. It is probably a good idea to discuss epidurals with your health-care provider. This topic is also covered in childbirth classes.
A study in the medical journal The Lancet found that low-dose epidurals resulted in fewer interventions during birth, with 43 percent of women being able to give birth on their own without forceps or vacuum extraction, compared to 35 percent of women who were given higher-dose epidurals. However, those with low-dose epidurals took longer to recover from birth, and their babies were more likely to need breathing assistance.
A spinal block is the injection of pain-relieving medication into the spinal fluid. A spinal provides complete, immediate numbing of the middle and lower body; however, it is temporary and wears off within an hour or two. Spinals are generally reserved for C-sections.
Combination Epidural and Spinal
A combination of an epidural and spinal can provide benefits of both: the immediate relief of a spinal and the lasting effects of an epidural.
If you need an episiotomy, you may be given an injection at the site to numb the area. If a forceps or vacuum assisted delivery is needed, a local block is given to numb the area.