Expert Advice

What Pain Medications Can I Use During Labor?

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Labor is no joke, except for that occasional wonder woman who chooses to sing or recite poetry through her contractions (yes, both of those have happened!). With the rise of the natural birth approach to labor and delivery, more and more women are breathing their way through contractions. But if you’re a first time mom-to-be, how do you know what pain medications will work best for you?

Fifty percent of women choose to have an epidural that lasts for hours, and some women choose a short-term injection that wears off fairly quickly.

Discuss pain management with your care provider as you research and write your birth plan, so you’re both on the same page. You can state that your birth preference—should all go according to plan—is to use a specific type of pain relief.

The best-laid birth plans can go out the window in an emergency, so remember that rolling with the unexpected means you and baby get the best your birthing team can give.

Your Risk Status Matters

If you’re low-risk, you can usually choose any method you want to get through labor. But hospitals or birthing centers may have restrictions for women who are high-risk, so be sure you talk with your care provider and birthing location to guarantee you know what your options are.

Types of Pain Relief

Pain relievers function in two ways:

  1. analgesics – reduce pain without decreasing sensation or muscle function
  2. anesthetics – numb an area so you don’t feel pain, but it affects your ability to control your body

Opiates are analgesics

Care providers often use them when more natural approaches like breathing, massage, or laboring in water don’t help, or a mother prefers mild pain meds.

They’re used early in labor because

  • they’re given in small amounts—usually by injections or through an intravenous tube, to avoid side effects for mama and babe
  • they help relieve mom’s anxiety so she can cope better with contractions
  • they relieve pain but don’t affect mom’s ability to push

Epidurals are anesthetics

They last for hours. More than 50% of women ask for this during labor. There are two kinds:

  1. Regional – blocks pain to the lower half of your body so you don’t feel any pain, although you may still feel sensations like stretching or pressure. It’s like getting Novocain to have a tooth pulled—you don’t feel pain, but feel all the tugging and wiggling to extract the tooth.
  2. Local – only blocks pain in a small area. Local anesthetics are usually injected and are often used prior to an episiotomy.

Epidurals come in two flavors:

  1. Regular – delivered by pump via an IV catheter inserted into your spine, or by periodic injections. You’ll need to stay in bed, will feel very little below your waist, will probably have eating or drinking restrictions, and may need help turning or shifting positions
  2. Combined Spinal-Epidural (CSE) “Walking Epidural” – gives you more body control, although you probably won’t actually be walking around because of weakened muscle strength, balance issues, and slowed reaction times. But you may be able to move in bed, squat for contractions, and possibly eat or drink during labor.

See our post “What Makes You Laugh During Labor” to find out about nitrous oxide—“laughing gas”—as a temporary but effective pain reliever many women are using. Your preferred pain management method can be listed in the final version of your birth plan listed on your hospital bag checklist.

 

To learn more about labor preparation, download our free Birth Plan eBook now. After three years of research, collaboration with more than 100 childbirth experts and resource centers from Healthy Child Healthy World to the American Association of Neonatal Nurses, the Best Ever Baby Birth Plan Guide is available for a free download.

This new resource for pregnant families is a compilation of top tips and advice from more than 20 nationally-recognized experts in the field including renowned pediatrician, Dr. Alan Greene and GraceFull Birthing founder, midwife Elizabeth Bachner. These trusted experts offer thoughtful guidance for whatever type of birthing experience parents want, in whichever setting they choose.

Published: March 29, 2018 | By SP Turgon, Certified Labor Doula | Reviewed by: The Best Ever Baby Expert Team | Last reviewed: March, 2018

Sabriga TurgonWhat Pain Medications Can I Use During Labor?

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