Labour Pains: Oooooh or Aaaaah?

Pain relief optionsSome women simply take pregnancy and childbirth in their stride. Their feet don’t swell up to twice their size, they don’t put on half their body weight, they don’t suffer from aches, heartburn and stretch marks… and they don’t break a sweat when popping their clean and shiny, dimply babies out without so much as a Panado.

Well, good for them! For the other 90% of expectant mothers out there, pregnancy isn’t quite so dreamy.

Some women want to go it alone, others just want to take the edge off the pain, whilst the rest of us want drugs… lots and lots of lovely drugs, developed specially for women in the throes of labour. As with most of the other big decisions during this special time, choosing the right pain relief is a big deal.

The best thing you can do for yourself (and your baby) is to go into the labour ward prepared and at peace with your birth plan. Having said that, things have a way of changing when you’re 3cm dilated and you’re about to be tasked with bringing a new little life into the world. Don’t get stressed if you change your mind at about pain relief at the last moment – be prepared, yes. But try to be flexible, too, because nothing will hinder the progress of labour faster than tension. 

As always, it’s best to discuss these weighty issues with your ob-gyn or midwife. If you’re in doubt as to what your options are, we’ve put together a basic guide for you:


Dull the pain

This is for those women who don’t want to employ invasive pain control methods. Allowing the mom-to-be to stay alert and fully in control, these two options reduce the pain to a manageable level.

Gas & Air

Perfect for the woman who likes to take charge, -gas and air’ is administered via a mask which is self-administered. Although some women experience nausea and claustrophobia when using this mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen, it has many advantages over other pain control methods, including the fact that it doesn’t take long to leave the system. The fact that it doesn’t affect the baby will give you added peace of mind.


Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation stimulates the nerve fibres of the back, which can override the sensation of pain in the uterus. Particularly useful in the early stages of labour, this small battery-powered device sends a pulsed electrical stimulus to the skin via electrode pads placed along strategic points of the body. The device, which is controlled by the patient and which has no side-effects on either mom or baby, stimulates the release of endorphins which causes a slightly -spaced out sensation.


Obliterate the pain

If complete numbing of the pain is what you’re looking for, then one of these three options is for you:


Inserted by an anaesthetist via a catheter into the space surrounding the spinal membrane, an epidural works by delivering pain relief to the lower part of your body. Offering continuous pain control, the epidural allows you to remain fully conscious during labour while not affecting your ability to move your legs. You will be required to have an IV inserted and constant foetal monitoring will be implemented. Although epidurals can cause headaches and fever in a small percentage of women, this procedure is requested by thousands of moms-in-waiting throughout the world.

Spinal Block

A -spinal is administered with one stab of a needle, directly into the spinal fluid. It works rapidly, causing numbness from the waist down. This numbness (in contrast to an epidural) lasts only a few hours. Initially uncomfortable, the spinal presents several drawbacks such as the need for an IV and foetal monitoring, the inability to get out of bed, drop in blood pressure and the reduced ability to easily push your baby out, which could lead to interventions becoming necessary. On the upside, spinal blocks are effective and transfer comparatively little medication to your baby.

Intravenous Pain Control

This can be administered as a single shot of pethidine, fentanyl or morphine into the bum or thigh, or provided in the form of PCA (patient controlled analgesia) which is regulated by the patient with the push of a button. The medication relaxes the mother, but can cause nausea and unfortunately sometimes crosses into the placenta, which can make the baby drowsy.


Embrace the pain

With natural pain control becoming increasingly popular with pregnant women, more and more clinics are offering choices in line with this trend. Here are a couple of options:


Hypnotherapy is essentially hypnosis that is applied as a form of pain-control therapy. 100% safe for both mom and baby, this method teaches the expectant mom to alter her mindset, allowing her to slip into a state similar to that of daydreaming, without having to lose consciousness or clarity. Several practitioners of this pain control method have registered techniques that are now applied worldwide.


Many clinics offer a waterbirthing pool to pregnant women as an alternative to conventional pain relief methods. Soaking in a bath of tepid water offers few drawbacks but many benefits, including softening of the perineum, shorter labour, mobility, relaxation and a peaceful (and clean!) entry for baby into the big, wide world. Most women who have delivered in a waterbirth report it to have been a very special, positive experience.

Other natural routes

Acupuncture, homoeopathy, breathing therapy, massage, reflexology and aromatherapy are all gaining in popularity. Although your ob-gyn may at first be resistant to the idea of your employing these complimentary therapies, the right thing to do is: follow your instincts. They’re almost always right.


Best of luck

Whichever route you choose, just remember that we’re all individuals. Don’t bow to outside pressure, take it easy, be patient with yourself and always do what feels right to you and your partner.


Related Posts

Leave a Reply