For some lucky women, labor is quite manageable. For others, it can be very uncomfortable and painful — but it doesn't have to be. There are lots of ways
to make yourself more comfortable during labor. You can learn and practice natural pain-relief techniques prior to labor; then, if needed, you can add
medication or an epidural as labor progresses.
You'll want to weigh the benefits and risks of each approach before deciding which measure or combination of measures to go with on the big day. Here are
Nonmedical Pain Relief
Childbirth educators, nurses, and women who've used this approach recommend it more than any other as a noninvasive way to reduce muscle tension and
pain in childbirth. Progressive body relaxation — taking a tension-reducing "walk" through your body — is something you can learn and practice ahead of
time so you'll be comfortable using it in labor.
Have your partner massage your arms, legs, or back during labor to help you relax and to decrease tension and pain.
Spend as much of your labor as possible in a rocking chair, gently moving back and forth as you breathe and relax.
Walking, or even just pacing right by your bed, decreases discomfort while helping your contractions become stronger and more regular.
Don't stay in the same position for more than an hour, and don't lie flat on your back. Instead, try sitting up in your bed or a chair, lying on your
side, squatting and rocking on a birthing ball, or leaning forward over the back of a chair or your birthing bed.
Try sitting in a shower with a jet spray against your back, or lying in a whirlpool tub. Not all birthing centers or hospitals have a tub or shower in
the room, so if you want to use this method of relaxation during labor, make arrangements beforehand to give birth at a facility that offers it.
Application of heat or cold.
A heating pad or ice pack placed against your back can reduce muscle tension, improve circulation, and numb pain.
A specific pattern of breathing will help keep you relaxed and give you a focus other than the discomfort of the contraction. Concentrate on slowly
breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth while picturing a beautiful scene in your mind.
Make sure you have your favorite, relaxing songs on your phone, iPod, or laptop. Don't forget your headphones or earbuds.
Many of the above measures are taught in Lamaze classes or childbirth courses.
Medication and Anesthesia
Medications can be given as a shot to help you relax or to decrease pain. They could make you drowsy or nauseated. Your baby will be monitored
carefully, as the medications given to you will affect the baby also.
An epidural — an injection of medication into your spinal column — removes most sensation of your contractions. It takes effect in about 30 minutes.
While epidurals offer nearly complete pain relief to most women, there are risks: if given too soon, before you're in good active labor, an epidural
can slow down or stop labor, requiring other interventions to keep things progressing.
An epidural may cause your blood pressure to drop. Because it relaxes your abdominal muscles and decreases your ability to push the baby out, it can
also increase the chance that your provider will need to use forceps to deliver the baby or that a Cesarean birth will be necessary. Epidurals may also
raise the mother's temperature, requiring that she be separated from her baby following birth until infection is ruled out. Be sure to discuss the pros
and cons with your provider before labor begins.
It's hard to know in advance which pain relief measures you will want to use. Once you're in labor you can make decisions as you go, according to the
intensity and length of your labor. The important thing for now is to do your homework. Find out all you can about your options, talk to your healthcare
provider, and trust yourself to make the right decisions.