Ask our midwife: what pain relief is available during labour?

This month we've been looking at midwives, and antenatal care. In our final week, we're taking a look at the build-up to labour and the event itself. One of the biggest questions women have is around pain relief; what types are available, and what actually works?

So, over to our in-house Pregnacare midwife Summaya; what sort of pain relief options are available during labour?

I would recommend that all women attend antenatal classes to help prepare you for labour and what happens after, once you are at home with the baby. A lot of the anxiety over birth surrounds lack of understanding or knowledge over what is going to happen.

So make sure you educate and empower yourself, it's your birth.

Antenatal classes are also a good way to get partners involved and also prepare them for the big day.

Here are the most commonly available pain relief options:

Massage - this can help you to relax and enable your birthing partner to support you in the labour. However, some women do not like being touched while in labour.

Mobilising and changing position - rocking, kneeling, walking can help to speed up the labour as gravity will aid with the decent of your baby. Changing your position can also help you to get more comfortable and relieve pressure.

Breathing and relaxation techniques/hypno-birthing - you can attend classes to teach you these techniques, help empower you and prepare to about what to expect.

Paracetamol or Co-dydramol (usually used in early labour) - these are painkillers that may help to take the edge off the pain.

TENS machine - can be hired from some hospitals and local pharmacies such as Boots. A TENS machine is a small portable, battery-operated device which is worn on the body. The hand held device is attached to sticky pads stuck that are placed on the skin. Small electrical pulses are transmitted to the body, like little electric shocks sent via the wires connected from the hand held device to the sticky pads. This device can help to ease the pain of contractions and is used during the discomfort of the contraction.

Water - can help you to relax and can make contractions feel less painful, as the water takes the weight of your body. You can use water as a form of pain relief in labour or can even give birth in it. The temperature of the water will be set at what is comfortable for you but also safe for the baby to be born into (around 37.0⁰c).

Pethidine or diamorphine - An intramuscular injection that usually works within 20 minutes and can last from up to 2 to 4 hours. This drug can make you feel quite sleepy and can also have this effect on baby. For this exact reason we wouldn't give it to you too close to delivery as we want your baby to be born kicking and screaming. If baby is born under the effects of the medication there is an antidote that can be given to reverse the effects.

Entonox/Gas and air - Is a mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide. It has different effects on different women. some women feel nausea's, some vomit, some feel light headed and some get the giggles hence it also being known as 'laughing gas'. The gas takes up to 15-20 seconds to work so we advise that you start to use as soon as you feel the contraction starting until it has completely passed. It works better if you take long, deep slow breaths. There is no harmful side effects for the baby but if you do not like the way that the Entonox makes you feel then stop using it and try an alternative.

Epidural - a form of local anaesthetic that numbs the pain from the waist down effecting the pain signals from the birth canal to the brain. This is the strongest form of pain relief available but this can only be sited by an anaesthetist on the labour ward. You will need a drip in your arm and the epidural will be sited in your spine.

What type of pain relief did you use in labour, and what worked for you? Leave a comment and let us know.

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