Options: Labor Pain



Why is it important to learn about the full range of labor pain relief options?

What are the main options for relieving labor pain and increasing physical and emotional comfort?



Why is it important to learn about the full range of labor pain relief options?

Even if you feel you know how you want to relieve labor pain -- or expect to follow the advice of a friend, relative, or caregiver -- it would be wise to learn about advantages and disadvantages of all your options. This will enable you to put together a flexible plan that suits your own preferences and philosophy and that can be revised, if need be, to meet the demands of your labor.

Keep in mind that you can use many strategies in sequence or in combination.

What are the main options for relieving labor pain and increasing physical and emotional comfort?

The options provided below are listed in the order given because:
  • Good labor support is the foundation of coping with labor, regardless of the choices you make.
  • Every woman can benefit from non-drug labor pain relief strategies, even if your first preference is pain medication. Comfort measures and mental strategies can be used:
    • in early labor when you are still at home.
    • in combination with labor pain medication to increase its effectiveness.
    • while waiting to get the procedure and experience the effects of epidural analgesia (anesthesiologists aren't always readily available, and there is a delay from decision to relief).
    • in circumstances where pain medication isn't advisable or there isn't time.
    • when an epidural doesn't work (occasionally, an epidural provides only partial anesthesia, or it doesn't take at all).
    • to delay or limit medication use, which may reduce adverse effects.
  • Adverse effects are more likely as one proceeds through the list.

The main options are:
  • good labor support: help throughout labor from a companion who can provide physical and emotional comfort, information, guidance for your partner, and help communicating with staff. This website has a full section to help you get the labor support you need.
  • non-drug options,
    • comfort measures: things you can do for yourself, others can do for you, or that can be done to the environment, to increase your comfort
    • mental strategies: a variety of mental techniques with a range of effects that can help with labor pain
    • sterile water injections: injections of sterile water just under the skin in your lower back to provide relief for the common experience of low-back labor pain
  • nitrous oxide: an anesthetic gas (also known as "laughing gas") that is inhaled as needed; provides adequate relief for many laboring women in other countries, but is rarely available in the U.S.
  • narcotics: a class of depressant drugs (also known as opioids) given through an intravenous (IV) drip, by injection into a muscle, or through a nasal spray; narcotics are widely used in the U.S., especially in hospitals that are not large referral and teaching centers
  • the epidural/spinal family: one or more medications are injected into the spinal column for "regional" analgesia; has become the most common method for labor pain relief in the U.S.
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Best-Evidence: Labor Pain


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Childbirth Connection is a national not-for-profit organization founded in 1918 as Maternity Center Association. Our mission is to improve the quality of maternity care through research, education, advocacy and policy. Childbirth Connection promotes safe, effective and satisfying evidence-based maternity care and is a voice for the needs and interests of childbearing families.
Most recent page update: 11/16/2012