Everything You Need To Know About Pain Relief Options In Labour
Labour is often feared because of its reputation for being a relatively painful experience. Many women report it to be quite different though, more powerful than painful. It really depends on a number of things. Your pain threshold, your mindset, and of course, your own individual circumstances. Many labours are difficult due to the positioning of the baby, for example.
If you choose to use pain relief during labour, things can get a little confusing, as there are so many options! That’s why we are here to help. Educating yourself on the pain relief options available during labour can help relieve some of your worries and when the time comes it will help you decide what pain relief is right for you.
Here are 4 common pain relief options used in labour:
Entonox is a mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen that is commonly referred to as ‘gas and air’. The gas is inhaled through a mask or mouthpiece which you hold yourself. It wears off quickly so don’t forget to inhale the gas just as your contractions begin, but don’t worry, your midwife will give you clear instructions if you choose to use this gas during labour. Entonox has no known harmful side effects for your baby, however, you may experience feelings of light-headedness, nausea, vomiting or dizziness. It does not take the pain away completely but can help to concentrate on your breathing and an additional painkilling injection may be used if required.
Pethidine is a morphine-based drug given by injection into the thigh or buttock. It’s typically given during the first stages of labour and takes about 20 minutes to work after being injected. The effects last between 2-4 hours and it helps to reduce the severity of the pain. Common side effects include drowsiness, nausea and vomiting so it’s usually combined with an anti-nausea medication. If given too close to delivery it can affect the baby’s breathing, but another drug to reverse this effect will be given. Pethidine can pass through the placenta which may cause drowsiness in the baby on delivery. Despite this, it’s considered to be safe and is the drug of choice for many women.
A transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation machine or TENS machine is a drug-free pain relief option. 4 electrodes are placed on the back and a gentle electrical current is passed through, this stimulates the production of endorphins (the body’s natural painkiller) and reduces the number of pain signals that are sent to the brain by the spinal cord. The machine is most effective during the early stages of labour. It takes between 30-40 minutes to build the endorphin levels and can be increased as your contractions get stronger. However, it’s not known to be effective during the active stage of labour. There are no known side effects for you or the baby.
An epidural is a type of local anaesthetic injected into the back, which must be given by an anaesthetist. A local anaesthetic is given in the back followed by a needle which is used to place an epidural catheter near the nerves in your back. The needle is then taken out and the anaesthetic can be pumped in through the catheter. If you choose to have an epidural your baby’s heart rate and your contractions must be monitored continuously. It can take between 10-40 minutes to start working and many women find that it provides complete pain relief during labour. The side effects of an epidural include vomiting, backache, itchy skin & loss of bladder control. If loss of bladder control occurs a catheter can be placed in your bladder to help. Epidurals can prolong the second stage of labour. If you cannot feel your contractions anymore the midwife may need to use forceps to deliver the baby’s head.
Now that you know about the different pain relief options available to you, you will be better prepared when the time comes to bring your little one into the world.