Labour pain relief options

By Liz Wilkes

PBC Expo spoke with Liz Wilkes, CEO of Midwifery and Maternity Provider Organisations Australia to get an idea of the different forms of labour pain relief options that are available to you during the birth experience.

During labour and birth there are a vast array of pain relief options. It is important to consider your option dependent on the stage of labour, where you are having your baby, your personal preferences developed after doing some research or attending antenatal classes, whether you have other medical conditions and your care provider’s advice. 

In the early part of labour it is great to start using heat packs which will ease any muscular tension as well. An Elle Tens machine correctly placed as soon as labour commences can provide an invaluable aid right throughout labour. TENS machines can be purchased or hired and settings are altered as your labour progresses to assist with relief. TENS can be used in conjunction with other forms of pain relief but cannot be used in a shower or bath.

Other forms of pain relief include massage, acupressure, warm water immersion (shower or bath),deep relaxation techniques, and finally medical forms of pain relief such as nitrous oxide gas, opiods and epidural anaesthesia.  It is important when considering drugs in labour to speak to your care provider to work out what is appropriate.

How will I know what's right for me?

Trial and error is the best mechanism of decision making. It is important to give any form of pain relief a period to “settle in” and not change too quickly. At times it will take several contractions before a change can be noticed. Working with a care provider who understands what you want from your birth is very important because there are times in labour where you may wish to alter your choices – particularly in transition at the end of the first stage of labour, just before your cervix is fully dilated – and it may be advisable to wait for a short period prior to making this decision.

At what point do I have to choose pain relief?​ 

You can choose pain relief at any time during your labour and birth. There is never a ‘too late’ to have some form of pain relief although it may be impractical to insert an epidural while your baby is actually being born! 

Most of the time when women say it was “too late” it means that they have started to push their baby out. This doesn’t mean you cannot have pain relief, it just means that there is such a short time of labour likely that you may not actually need major drugs for the short period that remains. 

Certainly some drugs, such as opioids have to take time to start working and therefore they would not be appropriate just as your baby is being born. In fact because opioids have an impact on baby’s respiration (breathing) it is best not to have them within 4 hours of birth. Most other methods, including TENS, heat and water can be used throughout and can be an excellent source of relief if your care provider recommends that it is close to birth.

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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