The pain experienced during labour varies from woman to woman depending on their perception and tolerance level. Some women need assistance to get through the pain and others are able to do without by using various techniques like focusing on breathing or hypnotherapy.
Many kinds of pain relief are available. If you have a birth plan made, then this should also mention if you want to forgo pain medication or not. Most people opting to do without the pain relief leave the choice to the physician to make in case of complications arising during the labour.
Medicine options for pain management:
Narcotic painkillers dull the pain but do not eliminate it completely. A tranquilizer may also be given with the narcotic, or by itself to reduce anxiety and help relax.
Systemic drugs are either injected intramuscularly or through an IV directly to the blood stream. They affect the entire body rather than concentrating pain relief in the uterus and pelvic area. Systemic drugs, unlike anaesthesia, do not make you unconscious but only sleepy.
Gas and air (Entonox)
This is a mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide gas which is breathed in with a mask. It makes the pain bearable but does not eliminate it completely. The gas takes about fifteen to twenty seconds to work, so it is breathed in just as a contraction begins and it works to dull the pain. It may make some women feel sleepy and unable to concentrate. In such cases, it should be stopped.
An epidural delivers continuous pain relief to the lower part of your body while allowing you to remain fully conscious. It numbs the nerves that carry the pain impulses from the birth canal to the brain. The medication is delivered through a thin catheter inserted into the space near the nerves that carry pain impulses from the uterus to the brain. (This is called the epidural space.) The medication is usually a combination of a local anaesthetic and a narcotic. Local anaesthetics block sensations of pain, touch etc. and narcotics blunt pain. Used together, they provide good pain relief with less loss of sensation in the legs and at a lower total dose than needed with just one or the other.
Alternative methods of pain relief
Some women prefer to avoid any types of pain relief drugs and choose alternative treatments such as acupuncture, aromatherapy, homeopathy, hypnosis, massage and reflexology. These techniques are gaining popularity but have not actually been proven to be effective in reducing pain.
It is important to consult with your physician if you are considering any of these methods of pain management. Many hospitals may not offer them for pain relief during labour so it is also important to speak with the hospital in charges beforehand to find out if the hospital allows such methods.