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Pregnancy: Easing the pains of labor

Both natural techniques and medicines can help ease the pain of childbirth.

Ah, the joy of baby's arrival. But first comes labor. And labor goes hand in hand with pain.

Fortunately, there are many ways to ease the pain. No one option is best for every woman. Your wishes as well as the circumstances of your delivery must be considered. Talking with your doctor is the best way to learn more.

In the meantime, here's what you should know about your choices.

Natural ways

Natural techniques use several different methods to ease pain.

You might try:

Lamaze. This method uses distraction to ease your perceptions of pain. It may include:

  • Deep breathing.
  • Massage.
  • Concentration.

Water therapy. Being in the water during labor may help you feel physically supported, warm and relaxed, notes the Office on Women's Health. Giving birth in water (water delivery) may ease discomfort and pressure. Talk to your doctor or midwife if you want to learn more about water therapy or water delivery.

Visual imagery. This method helps you focus on something soothing.

Breathing techniques. These are sometimes used with other methods. But breathing exercises, in which you breathe at rates and depths that help relax you, can also be tried on their own.


Two main types of medicine can ease pain:

Analgesics. These don't cause total loss of feeling or muscle movement. And they don't always completely stop pain. But they can ease it.

Systemic analgesics act on your whole nervous system. They are usually given by injection. They can cause side effects, such as:

  • Nausea.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Trouble concentrating.

They can also slow your baby's reflexes and breathing at birth. So they are not given right before delivery.

Regional analgesia affects a specific area in the body. The American Society of Anesthesiologists reports that it causes few side effects. It also tends to be the best way to ease labor pain.

Types include:

  • Epidural analgesia. This may be called an epidural block. It delivers medicine into the lower back. This numbs the lower body within 10 to 20 minutes. Side effects are rare. But they can include lower blood pressure (which may slow your baby's heartbeat), headache and a sore back.
  • Spinal block. This involves an injection in the lower back. It usually relieves pain right away. However, relief lasts only one or two hours and you usually get only one block. Possible side effects are similar to those of an epidural.
  • Combined spinal-epidural block. This provides immediate pain relief that may continue throughout labor.

Anesthetics. These medicines block all feeling.

Local anesthesia causes loss of feeling in a specific body area. It may be used during an episiotomy. During this procedure, the skin between the vagina and the anus is cut.

Local anesthesia rarely affects the baby or causes side effects once it has worn off.

Regional anesthesia stops feeling in certain parts of the body. It also lets you stay awake. It may be given as an epidural block. It can also be given as a spinal block. But the medicine is stronger than an analgesic. It's sometimes used for birth by C-section.

Side effects may include:

  • Headache.
  • Lower blood pressure.
  • Trouble breathing. This is rare.

General anesthesia causes loss of consciousness. It's rarely used for C-sections.

Talk with your doctor

Every woman's labor is unique. At the same time, there are many choices for pain relief. Ask your doctor about the best options for you.

Once labor starts, you may find your initial choice doesn't give the relief you need. Don't worry. Stay flexible. Be open to the possibility of something different.

Reviewed 9/27/2023

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