Pain is a normal part of labour and childbirth. No two women will experience or feel the same thing in labour. We all have different levels of pain that we can cope with, and we react differently to stress and pain.
It is very important that you understand your options and remain flexible on your choices for managing your pain during labour.
Natural pain relief
- A TENS machine is a pocket-sized, battery-operated device that sends electrical impulses to certain parts of the body to block pain signals. It's best used in early labour and while at home. Depending on where you're giving birth, you'll likely need to supply your own TENS machine.
- Some women find massage helpful. We encourage you to bring along your favourite massage oil and discuss this option with your support person beforehand.
- Rhythmic breathing during labour maximises the amount of oxygen available to you and your baby. Breathing techniques can also help you cope with the pain of contractions. Ask your LMC about breathing techniques.
- Aromatherapy uses essential oils to affect how you are feeling. Ask your LMC or seek professional advice about which oils will be effective in labour.
Medical pain relief
- Entonox, a gas mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen, is breathed through a mouth piece. It takes only a minute to work and wears off quickly, so it can be used with each contraction. Some women find entonox makes them feel light-headed or sick. These side effects go away rapidly when you stop breathing the gas. Entonox has no known side effects on the baby.
- Morphine can be given by a midwife. It is normally given by injection and is intended to make you feel more relaxed and able to cope better with the pain of labour, but does not block pain completely. Morphine can make you feel sick, so is often given with medications to reduce this feeling. Morphine crosses the placenta and can make both you and your baby drowsy, so is not usually given within two hours of birth.
- An epidural requires an anaesthetist to inject local anaesthetic near the spinal cord in the lower back. This effectively numbs the lower part of the body. A small plastic tube is inserted into the epidural space so that you can have further pain relief as required. An epidural requires a drip in your arm and may require a catheter in your bladder, because you might lose the urge to pass urine. Your baby's heart beat will be continually monitored if you have an epidural, and your blood pressure will be checked regularly. A very small number of women have a serious reaction to some anaesthetics drugs. If you have ever had a reaction to an anaesthetic drug, please tell your LMC. At National Women's Health we offer a full service for epidural anaesthesia if required.
For more information, take a look at our information booklet on coping with labour [PDF, 883 KB] or find out more below about attending one of our free pain relief in labour talks.