When it comes to pain relief in child birth, it’s important to know your options so that you and your obstetrician can decide what’s right for you. Eve Health specialist Dr Robyn Aldridge discusses your options.
I think it is really important for women to know all of their options for pain relief for child birth. Even if they don’t think that they will use a particular form of pain relief, I think it is good for them to have read and have a chance to consider the benefits and downsides of each form of pain relief.
Many women are informed about pain relief possibilities before we discuss them, but this doesn’t mean the options have been fully explored. Internet searches and antenatal classes often provide the fundamental information and then I will often clarify and expand on this information.
There is more to pain relief than nitrous oxide gas or an epidural. The best form of pain relief depends on the stage of labour and the type of pain that a woman is feeling.
In most situations, I think of pain relief like a ladder. You are probably best to start on the first step and then progress through other options as needed. I always consider non-pharmaceutical options first, such as moving and walking or sitting on a birthing ball. We can apply heat packs or hot water to ease discomfort. Some women use meditation, calm birthing skills or visualisation techniques.
If the pain increases we could introduce a Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) machine, which uses a small electric current to stimulate nerves, and blocks the sensation of pain. If the pain escalates, Nitrous Oxide gas can be introduced or perhaps an injection of stronger pain relief which helps women relax and be less aware of the pain. Then the final step on the ladder is an epidural.
There are some cases when I would recommend the use of an epidural, such as with multiple births or if there is extremely high blood pressure or if you experience an uncontrollable urge to push.
Some women want to try without any pain relief and others just want to have an epidural as soon as their labour is underway. I think it all comes down to how you want to experience the end of your pregnancy. I really try to care for women in a way that is individualised to that woman. There really isn’t one particular way of managing pain relief in labour.
As labour is unpredictable, it’s good to know the options and the associated risks of each form of relief and be open to possibilities. Interestingly, for many women, the worry about the pain of childbirth is more than the actual pain felt. You might surprise yourself on how well you and your body manages the pain.
This post was written by Dr Robyn Aldridge, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Eve Health.