Labor can be a whole other thing. When those contractions threaten to rip your innards apart. It feels like a bad booboo twenty times over. While some women choose to give birth with minimal pain intervention, more women are opting for pain relievers during birthing. In 2015 alone, more than 73 percent of mothers who gave birth in hospitals in the United States used epidural or spinal blocks for pain relief, according to a 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
There are a number of interventions for pain relief while birthing. And options include medicated pain relief and non-medical pain relief. Here is what you need to know to make the right decision for you and your baby.
Medical pain relief options for childbirth
Pain relief drugs generally come in two types — anesthetics and analgesics. Anesthetics blocks pain by causing partial or complete loss of sensation while analgesics lessen pain without loss of feeling or muscle movement. These pain relief medications can either be systemic — affecting the entire body, regional — affecting a region of the body, like the region below the waist, or local — affecting a small area of the body like the vagina, vulva, and perineum. Some analgesics or anesthetics reduce or block pain in bigger regions of your body. These include epidural block, spinal block, and combined spinal-epidural (CSE) block.
An epidural block, also referred to simply as epidural is the most common type of pain relief used for childbirth in the United States. An epidural block is a regional pain-blocking procedure that acts as a numbing medicine injected via a catheter into a small space outside the spinal cord in the lower back (epidural space). For labor and vaginal delivery, a combination of analgesics and anesthetics may be used. You should be able to bear down and push your baby through the birth canal. For a cesarean delivery (C-section), the dose of anesthetic may be increased. This, therefore, causes loss of sensation in the lower half of your body. An epidural can also be used for postpartum sterilization (a birth control method).
Epidurals are not for everyone though. You might not be able to have an epidural if you’ve had major surgery in your lower back, have low blood-clotting factors, and/or have an infection in your lower back or are on certain blood thinners.
Though it is popular, the epidural block is not without side effects. When opioids are used, itching is common. However, the itching can be treated with other medication. Other less common side effects related to opioids include nausea, vomiting, and breathing problems. Effects not necessarily related to opioids include fever, soreness, headache and decrease in blood pressure.
Serious complications with epidurals are: injury to your spinal cord or nerves, breathing problems if the anesthetic affects your breathing muscles, numbness, tingling, or rapid heartbeat if the anesthetic is injected into a vein instead of a nerve.
Like an epidural block, a spinal block is a form of regional anesthesia, though it is rarely used in a vaginal birth. Medication is given as a single shot into the fluid around the spinal cord. It relieves pain quickly, but it lasts for only an hour or two. It has the same effects and risks as an epidural block.
A combined spinal-epidural block (CSE) is also another form of regional anesthesia which has the benefits of a spinal block and epidural block. The epidural provides continuous pain relief, while the spinal block acts to quickly relieve pain. You can get the same level of pain relief from a CSE as you can with an epidural, but with a lower dose of medication. It has the same side effects and risks as an epidural block.
Whether you delivered your baby vaginally or via C-section, your doctor may prescribe pain relievers since you will likely still experience some pain for at least a few weeks postpartum.
If you are not too keen on injections, then the nitrous oxide (laughing gas) maybe a better option for you. The tasteless and odorless gas reduces anxiety and increases a feeling of well-being so that it is easier to deal with pain. It is mixed with oxygen and inhaled through a mask. It works best if you begin inhaling 30 seconds before the start of a contraction. Though nitrous oxide causes some women to feel dizzy or nauseated, these sensations go away within a few minutes. It is safe for mother and baby.
Non-medical pain relief
If you would prefer to hold out on medication, plenty of alternative and complementary approaches exist, including, acupuncture, aromatherapy and hydrotherapy, reflexology, massage, acupressure, acupuncture, biofeedback among others. Research suggests that with adequate preparation, these holistic approaches can help to reduce pain or at least modify the perception of pain and reduce anxiety.
Ensure to discuss your medical plan relief or non-medical options with your healthcare provider.