How to Cope with Pain During Labor

While labor can seem like a scary experience for many pregnant women, there are a variety of methods through which to cope with pain during labor. Some of these methods work by easing labor pain naturally, while others reduce the pain of birth medically. Our labor pain management guide provides you with an overview of your options of ways in which to reduce labor-related pain.

Pain During Labor

Pain during labor is caused by the contractions of the uterine muscles of the body, as well as pressure on the cervix. Women also experience discomfort during childbirth because of the pressure of the baby’s head on the bowels and bladder.

The level of discomfort a woman experiences while giving birth varies from individual to individual. Some women experience all over body cramps, including in the abdomen, groin and back, while others feel pain on their sides and thighs. Women may describe pain during labor as being similar to menstrual cramping, while others describe it as feeling extreme pressure on their bodies.

Medical Options for Reducing Labor Pain

Generally, an epidural anesthesia is administered to women who want or need medical relief from labor pain.

However, epidurals today are available in much lower dosages than they previously were. In fact, today epidurals are available in approximately one-tenth the strength of the dosage administered twenty years ago. This lower dosage means that women giving birth can feel and move their legs and feel contractions as slight aches or twitches, allowing them to feel more involved in the process of giving birth.

There is a variety of epidural anesthesia currently prescribed:

  • standard: this traditional epidural provides a continuous drip of medication into the epidural space in the woman’s back.
  • combined spinal-epidural (CSE): a CSE two injections are placed into the same needle; one is administered into the epidural space while the other is administered into the deeper spinal space. This type of epidural is a particularly effective way of easing labor pain during advanced stages of labor.
  • patient-controlled epidural anesthesia (PCE): this epidural enables the patient to self-administer medication with the use of a button attached to a pump through which the medication drips. PCE can be an appealing option for women who want more flexibility in their labor pain management as well as more individualized pain relief.

Because only very low amounts of epidural can enter the baby’s bloodstream, studies have not found any evidence to support the argument that epidurals have a negative effect on a baby’s health. Conversely, studies have disproved the theory that having an epidural can affect a baby’s ability to breastfeed.

Natural births require an epidural that numbs the body from the waist down, while C-section births require an epidural that numbs the body from the breasts down. While general anesthesia was administered for C-section births in the past, a general anesthesia is now administered in only 5 to 8% of births in the United States.

Epidurals take approximately 10 to 20 minutes to start working and numbness generally disappears within one to three hours after giving birth. They are not fully effective in only 5% of cases; some reasons why an epidural is not completely effective is that the needle may not be inserted directly into the space between the vertebrae or the catheter may be inserted incorrectly. Tissue found in the epidural space may also prevent the proper administration of an epidural.

In addition, there are non-epidural drugs available for labor pain relief. The most common of these are narcotics, which are administered either through a regular injection or through an IV. Nubain (nalbophine) is a common type of narcotic used to relieve pain during childbirth and falls into the same class of drugs as codeine and morphine. B

Natural Options for Reducing Labor Pain

There are also a variety of options for easing labor pain naturally.

One important method of natural labor pain relief is breathing. The use of breathing techniques to relax oneself during labor is taught in the Lamaze technique, which views birth as a natural process. The Lamaze technique emphasizes breathing and massages and is performed under the supervision of a labor coach, usually a spouse or partner, who provides encouragement and can help relieve pain by providing massages; it also imparts a message of empowerment during labor.

The Bradley method is another natural option to minimize pain during childbirth. It teaches that labor is a natural process and that childbirth pain can be alleviated through breathing; the use of medication is encouraged only when necessary. It is also performed under the guidance of a labor coach or doula.

Water therapy, such as taking a warm shower or bath during labor, can also minimize childbirth-related pain. A water birth is a distinct type of birth in which labor typically occurs in a special birthing pool.

Acupuncture and massage are other natural options for labor pain management while hypnotherapy is a popular way to ease labor pain through mental relaxation. A birthing ball can provide labor pain relief while helping to strengthen the abdominal muscles.

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