Managing the Pain

While you’re in labor, your doctor, midwife or nurse should ask if you need pain relief. It is her job to help you decide what option is the best for you. There are many different kinds of pain relief. Not all options are available at every hospital and birthing center. Plus your health history, allergies, and any problems with your pregnancy will make some options better than others.

Types of pain relief used for labor and delivery include:

Intravenous or intramuscular analgesic

A doctor gives you pain medicine through a tube inserted in a vein (intravenous) or by injecting the medicine into a muscle (intramuscular). These medicines go into your blood and help ease the pain. Opiods including morphine, fentanyl and nalbuphine are usually used for this type of pain relief. This option does not get rid of all the pain. Instead it usually just makes the pain bearable. After getting this kind of pain relief, you can still get an epidural or spinal pain relief later.

Some disadvantages of getting intravenous or intramuscular analgesics include:

They make you feel sleepy and drowsy.

They can cause nausea and vomiting.

They can make you feel very itchy.

These medicines cross into the baby’s bloodstream. So they can affect the baby’s breathing, heart rate and cause him/her to be very sleepy after birth.

Epidural anesthesia

A doctor injects medicine into the lower part of your backbone or spine. The medicine blocks pain in the parts of the body below the shot. During a contraction, the feeling of pain travels from the uterus to the brain along nerves in the backbone. Epidurals block the pain of contractions by numbing these nerves.

Epidurals allow most women to be awake and alert with very little pain. Many women who get epidurals do not feel any pain during contractions and childbirth. Medicines used in epidurals include novocaine-like drugs that block the pain in that region combined with opiods like fentanyl.

Some disadvantages of getting an epidural include:

  • It can make you shiver.
  • It can lower your blood pressure.
  • It can make you feel very itchy.
  • It can cause headaches.
  • It many not numb the entire painful area. So women continue to feel pain in an area of the abdomen and back.

Pudendal Block

A doctor injects numbing medicine into the vagina and a nearby nerve called the pudendal nerve. This nerve carries sensation to the lower part of your vagina and vulva. This is only used late in labor, usually right before the baby’s head comes out. With a pudendal block, you have some pain relief but remain awake, alert and able to push the baby out. The baby is not affected by this medicine and it has very few disadvantages.

Spinal anesthesia

A doctor injects a medicine into the lower part of your backbone. This medicine numbs the body below where the medicine was injected. Spinal anesthesia gives immediate pain relief. So they are often used for women who need an emergency Cesarean section. Spinal anesthesia uses numbing medicines similar to novocaine combined with opiods like fentanyl.

Some disadvantages of spinal anesthesia include:

  • It numbs the body from the chest down to the feet.

    It makes you feel short of breath.

    It can lower your blood pressure.

    It can cause headaches.

Most healthy pregnant women with no risk factors for problems during labor or delivery have their babies vaginally. Still, the rate of babies born by cesarean section (c-section) in the United States is on the rise. In 2004, 29.1 percent of babies were born by c-section in this country. This is an increase of more than 40 percent since 1996.

Many experts think that up to half of all c-sections are unnecessary. Thus, the U.S. government is trying to reduce the rate. So it is important for pregnant women to get the facts about c-sections before they deliver. Women should find out what c-sections are, why they are performed, and the pros and cons of this surgery.