Many women worry about labor pain and how it can be safely managed. While most women experience some degree of discomfort during labor and childbirth, the amount of pain varies depending on the size and position of the baby, pelvic size, intensity of contractions and emotions of the woman.
Understanding the labor process can be helpful in managing labor pain. The pain felt during labor has a variety of causes including:
- Uterine contractions
- Pressure on the cervix
- Pressure on the bowels and bladder
- Stretching of the birth canal and vagina
Some women compare labor pain to strong menstrual cramps, while others describe the pain as intense. Since it isn’t possible to predict what labor will be like – even in women who have previously given birth – being prepared is the best way to manage labor pain.
Taking childbirth classes is one way to educate yourself on the birthing process and what to expect. Talking with your obstetrician about your options for managing labor pain is also a good idea. Depending on the woman’s preference, pain can usually be managed through natural means or medications.
Natural pain relief methods that are helpful during labor include:
- Controlled breathing techniques
- Relaxation techniques such as massage
- Application of heat or cold packs to lower back
- Showering or bathing
- Playing music
- Changing of position including use of a labor ball, rocking, walking or sitting
If you decide you need stronger pain relief, you can request it during labor. Your OBGYN will assist you in determining which method of pain relief is best for you. Available options include:
- Narcotics – administered intravenously or through an intramuscular injection
- Epidural block – medication given through a small tube placed into the lower back
- Spinal block – medication injected directly into the spinal fluid
Talk with your OBGYN ahead of time about your options for managing labor pain. Understand that even if you plan to forego medical pain management, it is perfectly acceptable to change your mind. Preparing for the labor process and learning about your options for labor pain management can help you in making an informed decision.