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Calming Your Labor and Delivery Fears

Experts provide the calming and reassuring advice you need for a successful labor and delivery.

Labor and Delivery: Fear of Pain

Any woman who's ever heard a "labor pain horror story" -- and who hasn't -- can't help but feel apprehensive about the pain associated with childbirth. But experts say that if you're even a little frightened about how you will react, talk to your doctor about your medication options well in advance of your due date.

"The one thing that's really important is to find out if the hospital where you will deliver has 24-hour anesthesia -- which means you will have an epidural available to you no matter when you deliver -- because not all hospitals offer that," says Robert Atlas, MD, chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Mercy Hospital in Baltimore.

If you discover your hospital doesn't, Atlas says not to panic. But do talk to your doctor about other types of pain control that will be available to you, including short- and long-acting narcotics.

Many women are concerned about the narcotics' effect on a baby, but doctors say the impact is mild, often just causing the baby to be a bit sleepy. Atlas says your doctor can tailor your drug regimen to your labor stage so that the impact on baby is minimized.

"The point to remember is that no woman has to experience more than discomfort during labor, and there is no need at all to suffer. The pain medicines used today are generally safe for mother and baby," says Atlas.

Riley says patterned breathing can also help control pain, particularly if you arrive at the hospital too far along to have an epidural. But this isn't something you can learn in the back of a taxi on the way to the delivery room; so prepare ahead of time by taking a few childbirth classes that focus on labor breathing.

Experts say don't underestimate the power of a professional labor support team to help control labor pain. In a 2003 analysis of several studies on about 12,000 women, researchers found there was a decrease in the need for pain-relief medicine -- as well as more successful vaginal births -- among women who had continuous labor support. This could be from a doula, midwife, nurse, or relative.

Labor and Delivery: Fear of an Epidural

While it may be comforting to know an epidural is available, it can also be a source of anxiety for many women.  Fear of the procedure, as well side effects including numbness, can cause some women to avoid pain medication completely. But doctors say there is little to fear. According to Blumberg, "the complication rate is exceedingly small, especially long-term complications." Short-term problems -- like a spinal headache -- are more common she says, but "still rare, affecting only about one in 200 patients, plus they can be easily treated," says Blumberg.

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