Pain Relief Options For Labour & Birth

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a woman holding a baby in her arms, black and white photo

Pain Relief Options for Childbirth

Pain relief options vary depending on personal preferences, medical history, and the recommendations of healthcare professionals. Here are some common options:

  1. Natural Techniques:
    • Breathing exercises: Techniques like Lamaze or the Bradley Method focus on controlled breathing to manage pain.
    • Relaxation techniques: Practicing relaxation, visualisation, and meditation can help manage discomfort.
    • Movement and position changes: Walking, rocking, or changing positions can help ease pain during labor.
  2. Non-Medicated Pain Relief:
    • Hydrotherapy: Immersion in warm water, such as a bath or shower, can help relax muscles and ease pain.
    • Massage: Gentle massage from a partner or a doula can provide comfort and relaxation.
    • Acupuncture/acupressure: Some women find relief from labor pains through acupuncture or pressure applied to specific points on the body.
  3. Medical Pain Relief:
    • Epidural anesthesia: This is a common option where medication is injected into the epidural space of the spine, numbing the lower body and reducing pain. It's typically administered by an anesthesiologist.
    • Spinal block: Similar to an epidural but administered as a single injection into the spinal fluid. It provides more immediate pain relief but lasts for a shorter duration.
    • IV medications: Pain-relieving medications can be administered through an IV, though they may not completely eliminate pain and can cause drowsiness.
  4. Combined Methods:
    • Some women choose to combine natural techniques with medical pain relief options for a more customised approach.

It's important for expecting parents to discuss these options with their healthcare provider during prenatal visits to understand the benefits, risks, and potential side effects of each method. The chosen method may also depend on the progression of labor and individual circumstances during childbirth.

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Self-help in labour

You're likely to feel more relaxed in labour and better placed to cope with the pain if you:

  • learn about labour – this can make you feel more in control and less frightened about what's going to happen; talk to your midwife or doctor, ask them questions, and go to antenatal classes
  • learn how to relax, stay calm, and breathe deeply
  • keep moving – your position can make a difference, so try kneeling, walking around, or rocking backwards and forwards
  • bring a partner, friend or relative to support you during labour, but don't worry if you don't have one – your midwife will give you all the support you need
  • ask your partner to massage you – although you may find you don't want to be touched
  • have a bath

Non-medical pain relief options for childbirth

  • Hypnobirthing - Hypnosis, Meditation, Breathing techniques, aromatherapy, acupuncture
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
  • Water birth

Hypnobirthing - Hypnosis, Meditation, Breathing techniques

Hypnobirthing methods can help you to overcome stress and anxiety for an easier, calmer birth.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)

The mother’s nerves in the lower back are stimulated using a small hand-held device controlled by the woman. There are no known side effects for mother or baby and can be helpful used alone or combined with other pain relief methods.

Water Birth

Being in the water can help you to feel more relaxed and help ease painful contractions. Water will be monitored and kept at a comfortable temperature, but not above 37.5C.

Medical pain relief options for childbirth

  • Entonox (Gas and Air) for labour
  • Pethidine or diamorphine injections in labour
  • Epidural anaesthesia

Entonox (gas and air) for labour

A mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide gas, you breathe in the ‘gas and air’ through a mask which you hold yourself, giving you control. Gas and air will help to reduce the pain and make it more bearable.

Side Effects:

  • Can make you feel drowsy and light-headed. As Entonox is self-administered, it is very safe, however if you become drowsy, you won't be able to hold your mouthpiece yourself
  • Dizziness, disorientation, nausea and a dry mouth
  • Tingling sensation can occur, usually in fingers, due to breathing too quickly. Your nurse will encourage you to slow down your breathing to a normal rate.

Pethidine or diamorphine injections in labour

Strong pain relievers pethidine or diamorphine injections take about 20 minutes to work and last between 2 - 4 hours. They are not recommended if you are getting close to the pushing stage of labour.

Side Effects:

  • Can make you feel dizzy, nauseous and forgetful
  • Pethidine can cross over the placenta to the baby. Baby may feed less frequently in the first 48 hours as the pethidine can make a baby drowsy
  • If pethidine or diamorphine are given too close to the time of delivery, they may affect the baby's breathing
  • You cannot use a birthing pool for about 4 hours after pethidine has been given (or until fully worn off)
  • If Pethidine hasn't worn off towards the end of labour, it can make it difficult to push. Half a dose initially may be a better option

Epidural anaesthesia

An epidural is a local anaesthetic which numbs the nerves that carry the pain impulses from the birth canal to the brain providing complete pain relief for most women. Anaesthetic is injected into the lining of the spinal cord through the back, making the mother feel numb from the waist down. It takes about 10 minutes to set up an epidural and 10-15 minutes to start working.

Side Effects:

  • An epidural can make your legs feel heavy, depending on local anaesthetic used
  • Urinating can be difficult after an epidural - You may need a catheter put into your bladder to help you
  • 1 in 100 women suffers from headaches after an epidural. If this happens, it can be treated
  • You may have a sore back for a couple of days, but epidurals don’t cause long-term backache.
  • About 1 in 2,000 women feel pins and needles down one left after having a baby. This could be due to childbirth itself rather than an epidural. You will be advised by a midwife or doctor when you can get out of bed
  • Can cause hypotension - your blood pressure can drop. This is rare because the fluid given through the drip in your arm will help to maintain good blood pressure
  • Epidurals can prolong the second stage of labour, and if you can no longer feel your contractions, the midwife will tell you when to push. In this case, forceps or a ventouse (assisted delivery) may be needed to help deliver the baby’s head. Sometimes less anaesthetic is given towards the end so that the effects wear off and you can feel to push your baby out naturally.

We wish you all the best with labour and delivery

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