Pain Relief Options


You may want to start thinking about whether you would like medications for pain relief during labor and delivery. You don’t have to decide now, but it’s a good idea to know your options. Even if you do make a decision now, you may change your mind once you’re in labor.

Each woman’s labor is unique. The amount of pain a woman feels during labor may differ from that felt by another woman. Pain depends on many factors, such as the size and position of the baby, the strength of contractions, and how you handle pain.

Some women take classes to learn breathing and relaxation techniques to help cope with pain during childbirth. Others may find it helpful to use these techniques along with pain medications.

There are two types of pain-relieving drugs. An analgesic lessens the pain, whereas an anesthetic can block all pain or sensation. Some forms of anesthesia, such as general anesthesia, cause you to lose consciousness. Other forms, such as regional anesthesia (eg, epidural block or spinal block), remove pain or sensation from certain regions of the body while you stay conscious. General anesthesia usually is not used for vaginal births.

Your anesthesiologist will work with you to help you choose the best method.

Medications for Pain Relief

There are two main types of pain relief drugs. An analgesic drug relieves pain without total loss of feeling or muscle movement. These drugs lessen pain but usually do not stop pain completely. An anesthetic drug relieves pain by blocking all feeling, including pain.

Systemic Analgesics

Systemic analgesics act on the body’s entire nervous system, rather than a specific area, to lessen pain. They will not cause you to lose consciousness (put you to sleep). Types of drugs used for this purpose include narcotics, which block the feeling of pain, and sedatives, which make you drowsy. These medications often are used during early labor to allow you to rest.

Systemic analgesics usually are given as a shot. Depending on the type of medication, the shot is given into either a muscle or a vein. With patient-controlled analgesics, you can control the amount of medication you receive through an intravenous (IV) line.

Systemic pain medications can have side effects. Most are minor, such as nausea, feeling drowsy, or having trouble concentrating. Sometimes another drug is given along with a systemic analgesic to relieve nausea. Another side effect is that these medications can make it more difficult to detect problems with the fetal heart rate. High doses of systemic pain medications can cause you to have breathing problems and can slow down the baby’s respiratory system, especially right after delivery. You and the baby will be monitored closely during and after this medication is given.

Local Anesthesia

Local anesthesia provides complete relief from pain in a small area of the body. You already may have had local anesthesia if you’ve had a cavity filled at the dentist’s office. During childbirth, a local anesthetic can be used to block pain in the perineum. It’s also used when an episiotomy is needed or if any vaginal tears that can happen during birth need to be repaired. It does not lessen the pain of contractions.

Local anesthesia is injected into the area around the nerves that carry feeling to the vagina, vulva, and perineum. When used to relive pain during childbirth, the drug is given just before the baby is delivered. The drug rarely affects the baby and there usually are no side effects once the local anesthesia wears off.

Regional Analgesia and Regional Anesthesia

Regional analgesia and regional anesthesia act on a specific region of the body. For labor and delivery, these types of medication lessen or block pain below the waist. There are several types available.

Epidural Analgesia or Anesthesia. An epidural block (or “an epidural”) is the most common type of pain relief used during childbirth in the United States. In this type of pain relief, medication is given through a catheter (a small tube) that is inserted with a needle into the lower back.

An epidural may be started soon after your contractions start or later as your labor progresses. An anesthesiologist or other specialized health care provider typically gives an epidural.

Nitrous Oxide

What are the benefits of using nitrous oxide versus an epidural? Can both be used during labor and delivery? How long has nitrous oxide been used during labor and delivery? Deb answers these questions and more.

Certified Nurse Midwife Deb White addresses these questions and more in the video below.

Labor Tub

Women in labor have the choice to use our state-of-the-art hydrotherapy tub, also know as a labor tub. The tub has many clinical benefits for women in the early stages of labor. Women can soak in it as an effective way to relieve contractions and back pain during labor.

In the tub, the weight of the baby is lifted off the mothers back by the water’s buoyancy. The water helps by providing a weightless environment where women have more freedom and have the ability to move.

The tub also helps with a baby’s positioning as it is moves down into the pelvis. The tub offers several jets to massage a woman’s achy muscles and is big enough for the woman and her partner to sit comfortably.