For most pregnant women, labour is painful. But it’s often described as “good” pain. It’s a manageable pain. Although, some mums have experienced what they call “supernatural childbirth”, with little or no pain.
If you feel pain during labour, you may choose to get help from medical technology to manage the pain – through drugs – or you may use alternative non-drug methods for pain management.
The decision about how you will birth your baby is ultimately your choice; while it’s important to listen to your caregiver’s advice, in the end, it’s up to you whether you will aim for a medically-managed or a natural birth.
Most pregnant women will admit to being a bit anxious about childbirth. Like any big fear, admitting you’re worried and trying to specify what exactly you are frightened about will help you to deal with your fears.
(It can help if you try to keep in mind that nearly all the 6 billion of the humans currently on the planet got here this way, so it can’t be all that bad!)
Get as much information as you can about your options before making your decision about the way you feel is right for you to approach birth. No-one else can make this choice for you.
It’s important to discuss and prepare for your chosen pain relief method, well in advance of the time you will be going into labour.
Using non-drug pain relief for labour and birth
Breathing and Positioning during labour and delivery
Labour pains come in waves and your ability to handle the pain is usually dependant on you getting into your body’s rhythm and “riding” the waves of pain by adjusting your breathing and the physical position of your body to the contractions.
Most antenatal classes will demonstrate the deep, abdominal breathing that is used in labour. If you can find a good pregnancy-specific yoga class (if you are lucky to find one in your area), you will have plenty of time to practice breathing and stretching techniques to help you through your pregnancy and also in labour.
Moving your body through a range of positions to help you deal with each contraction can be an effective way of managing pain.
Lying on your back during labour is probably the most painful position you can adopt. Move around. Get into positions that take the weight off your back and keep upright so that you use gravity to help the baby descend through your pelvis.
Upright positions that fully support the labouring woman might involve leaning on your partner or getting other physical support from partners, pillows or other furniture – even those blow-up fitness balls can help.
Bent knees and squatting can be useful pain-management techniques.
Massage during labour
In most labouring women, the pain of contractions across the abdomen is accompanied by lower back pain; gentle massage, perhaps with an unscented massage oil, can be a real relief at this time.
Visualisation to control the pain of labour
Using visualisation and self-talk can be very effective ways to help manage labour pains. If you have attended yoga classes through your pregnancy, you’ve probably been taken on visualisation journeys. Just see labour pain as a thing of the mind. Focus on your newborn you are meeting for the first time, and not the labour pain.
Drug relief for labour and birth
This is the ultimate labour painkiller, according to many women who have had an epidural; you’ll go from painful contractions to being numb from about the waist down.
An epidural must be administered by a specialist anaesthetist.
Timing is critical; epidurals work best when administered at around five centimeters dilation, when contractions are getting very strong. If you’ve got to about eight centimeters without it, most doctors won’t recommend it as it won’t “wear off” in time for you to push.
An anaesthetic is injected close to the spine, with a catheter left in to allow a later top-up. Often, you will have no feeling in your lower body, although many anaesthetists now give a dose that allows some movement in your legs.
On rare occasions, women have reported that the anaesthetic has only worked in half of their body, or it “misses a bit.”
The advantage (apart from instant relief from pain) is that this drug does not affect the baby. It can be very effective in controlling high blood pressure, although it can also drop your blood pressure too low, so a catheter with fluids is usually inserted into your arm to control this.
You’ll usually be confined to bed and may have a catheter inserted to empty your bladder – as you won’t know when to “go” – and that can make urinating a bit uncomfortable for the next few days. Labour will usually take longer, which can be more stressful for the baby, so your contractions, and your baby – will be constantly monitored, with an electronic fetal monitor probably attached to the baby’s head and a monitor across your abdomen to measure contractions.
And while you escape the building pain of contractions, you may not be able to push effectively, so if you do have an epidural, you’re much more likely to have a forceps or even a caesarean delivery, if the baby is in distress. You are more likely to have stitches as a result.
Talk to your caregiver and ask as many questions as you can, if you think you may want an epidural.