Each woman’s labor is unique. The amount of pain a woman feels during labor may differ from that felt by another woman. Pain depends on many factors, such as the size and position of the baby and the strength of contractions. Some women take classes to learn breathing and relaxation techniques to help cope with pain during childbirth. Others may find it helpful to use these techniques along with pain medications.

Types of Pain Relief

There are 2 types of pain-relieving drugs-analgesics and anesthetics. Analgesia is the relief of pain without total loss of feeling or muscle movement. Analgesics do not always stop pain completely, but they do lessen it.

Anesthesia is blockage of all feeling, including pain. Some forms of anesthesia, such as general anesthesia, cause you to lose consciousness. Other forms, such as regional anesthesia, remove all feeling of pain from parts of the body while you stay conscious. In most cases, analgesia is offered to women in labor or after surgery or delivery whereas anesthesia is used during a surgical procedure such as cesarean delivery.

Side Effects and Risks

Although most women have epidurals with no problems, there may be some drawbacks to using this pain relief method:

  • An epidural can cause your blood pressure to decrease. This, in turn, may slow your baby’s heartbeat. To decrease this risk, you’ll be given fluids through an intravenous line before the drug is injected. You also may need to lie on your side to improve blood flow.
  • After delivery, your back may be sore from the injection for a few days. However, an epidural should not cause long-term back pain.
  • If the covering of the spinal cord is pierced, you can get a bad headache. If it’s not treated, this headache may last for days. This is rare.
  • When an epidural is given late in labor or a lot of anesthetic is used, it may be hard to bear down and push your baby through the birth canal. If you cannot feel enough when it is time to push, your anesthesiologist can adjust the dosage.

Serious complications are very rare:

  • If the drug enters a vein, you could get dizzy or, rarely, have a seizure.
  • If anesthetic enters your spinal fluid, it can affect your chest muscles and make it hard for you to breathe.

As long as your analgesia or anesthesia is given by a trained and experienced anesthesiologist there’s little chance you’ll run into trouble. If you have any concerns or questions, be sure to share that with your doctor.

Finally…

Many women worry that receiving pain relief during labor will somehow make the experience less “natural.” The fact is, no two labors are the same, and no two women have the same amount of pain. Some women need little or no pain relief and others find that pain relief gives them better control over their labor and delivery. Talk with your doctor about your options. In some cases, he or she may arrange for you to meet with an anesthesiologist before your labor and delivery. Be prepared to be flexible.

Don’t be afraid to ask for pain relief if you need it, we are here to help! Contact us if you have any questions or to schedule an appointment.