Labor and Delivery - Managing Pain
You can choose from several types of pain relief for childbirth. These include medicine or breathing techniques, as well as comfort measures. You also can use a combination of these choices.
There are many ways to reduce the
stresses of labor and delivery. "Natural" childbirth techniques (without medicine) may help reduce pain and help you feel a sense of control during
- Continuous labor support. Having a support person with you from early
labor until after childbirth has a proven, positive effect on
- Distraction. During early
labor, you can walk, play cards, watch TV, take a shower, or listen to music to help take
your mind off your contractions.
Massage of the shoulders and lower back during contractions may ease your pain.
Strong massage of the back muscles (counterpressure) during contractions may
help relieve the pain of
back labor. Tell your labor coach exactly where to
push and how hard to push.
- Imagery. Imagery
is using your imagination to decrease your pain. For instance, to help manage
pain, visualize contractions as waves rolling over you. Picture a peaceful
place, such as a beach or mountain stream, to help you relax between
- Changing positions during labor. Walking, kneeling, or sitting on a big rubber ball (birth ball) are good options. For more information see Labor Positions.
- Focused breathing techniques. Breathing
in a rhythm can distract you from pain. Childbirth education classes will teach
you different methods of focused breathing.
- Laboring in water. Soaking in warm water may help with pain,
stress, and sometimes slow, difficult labor.2, 3
Other techniques without medicine
Other techniques that don't use medicine to control pain include:
- Hypnosis. This is a low-risk way of managing labor pain and
anxiety that works for some women.4
- Acupuncture. Small studies suggest that
acupuncture is a low-risk, effective way of managing
labor pain for some women.4
Pain relief with medicine
Your options for pain relief with medicine may include:
- Opioids (narcotics), which are used to
reduce anxiety and partially relieve pain. An opioid is less likely than
epidural anesthesia to lead to an assisted (forceps or vacuum)
delivery.5 But an opioid is usually not used when you are close to delivery, because it can affect a newborn's breathing.
- Epidural anesthesia, which is an ongoing injection of pain medicine into the
epidural space around the spinal cord. This partially or fully numbs the lower
- Pregnancy: Should I Have an Epidural During Childbirth?
- Pudendal and paracervical blocks. These are injections of pain medicine into the pelvic area to reduce labor pain. Pudendal is one of the safest forms of anesthesia for numbing the area where
the baby will come out. It can be helpful with fast labor when a little pain
medicine is needed close to delivery.
Some pain-relief medicines aren't the type that you
would request during labor. They are used as part of another procedure
or for an emergency delivery. But it's a good idea to know about them.
- Local anesthesia is the injection of
numbing pain medicine into the skin. This is done before inserting an
epidural or before making an incision (episiotomy) that widens the vaginal opening for the
- Spinal block is an injection of pain medicine into
the spinal fluid. It quickly and fully numbs the pelvic area for assisted
births, such as a
- General anesthesia is the use of inhaled or
intravenous (IV) medicine, which makes you
unconscious. It has more risks, yet it takes effect much faster than epidural
or spinal anesthesia. So general anesthesia is usually only used for some
emergency C-sections that require a rapid delivery.