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Pregnant woman in pain

Pain relief should be carefully considered for when you’re in labour, here are a few of your options

It’s important to consider the different forms of pain relief on offer during labour. Labour is different for everyone, so find the option which best suits you. Do talk to your midwife too for advice.

Natural pain relief

Self-help techniques can be useful in early labour to relieve pain. The advantage is they don’t involve drugs, so there are no side-effects for you and your baby. However, they only help you cope with the pain – they don’t take it away.

  • Active birth positions. These help to keep you moving. The more mobile you are, the faster your baby’s likely to be born.
  • Breathing. Slow breathing in the early stages of labour will help you to relax, and other breathing techniques can help relieve contractions and focus attention away from the pain. Find out more about different methods at your antenatal class.
  • Complementary therapies. Massage, reflexology, acupuncture, hypnosis, aromatherapy and homeopathy may all help to relieve pain. If you’re planning to give birth in a hospital, just ask permission for your practitioner to be present.
  • TENS. A transcutaneous nerve stimulation (TENS) machine delivers small electrical pulses to the body via electrodes placed on the skin. These can help some women cope with early labour pain.
  • Water. Buoyancy makes it easier to manoeuvre and water soothes and takes the edge off contractions – this is why some women use a birthing pool. If you don’t have access to one, a bath can help.
  • Hypnotherapy for birth. Not generally available on the NHS, there are several types available including HypnoBirthing and Natal Hypnotherapy.

Medical pain relief during labour

If you give birth in hospital, you’ll have access to a range of pain-relieving drugs. Talk through your options with your midwife, as the type of pain relief you choose will depend on how far into labour you are, and how quickly your labour is progressing. For a home birth, gas and, in some cases, pethidine, are usually available.

  • Gas (Entonox). Often known as gas and air, this is a mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide (laughing gas) that you breathe in through a hand-held mask or mouthpiece. Entonox takes the edge off the pain but doesn’t remove it altogether. However, it can be combined with pethidine for more effective pain relief.
  • Pethidine. Injected into your thigh or bottom once labour is well established, pethidine helps reduce pain to a more manageable level. If it works well, you’ll feel relaxed and sleepy, and this can ease labour if you’re tense. The effect wears off after four hours.
  • Epidural. A local anaesthetic is injected into the epidural space in the lower back via a fine tube. The tube is inserted through a needle and left in place during labour so that top-ups can be given.

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