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Pain relief options for labour and childbirth

Women experience and tolerate pain differently. For some pregnant women, focused breathing is all they need to get through labour and childbirth - but for others, numbing the pain is preferable.

There are a number of different methods of pain relief available to a woman during labour and childbirth. It is important for you to learn what pain relief options are available. Discuss the options with your midwife well before your "birth day" so that when you are in labour you understand the choices and are prepared.

Also, bear in mind that your pain relief choices may be determined by certain circumstances of your labour and delivery. Throughout your labour, your midwife will assess your progress and comfort and help you choose a pain relief technique.

Asking for pain relief should not make you feel guilty. You are the only one who knows how you feel, so decisions regarding the control of your labour pain must be made specifically by you. More so, don’t worry about the safety of the medication. All medications provided during childbirth are considered safe for both you and your baby.

What pain relief medications are available for labour and childbirth?

Below are the main ways to provide pain relief during labour and childbirth:

  • Inhalational analgesia is usually known as “gas and air”. This is widely used and is considered safe, although you may feel light-headed or nauseous after using it.
  • Opioids may be given in certain circumstances in consultation with you and your doctor.
  • Non-invasive measures for example breathing/relaxation, touch/massage, labouring in water may be used.
  • General anaesthesia puts you to sleep during the birthing process. Even though it’s safe, general anaesthesia is rarely used and only usually during emergencies since it prevents you from seeing your child immediately after birth.
  • Regional anaesthesia ( epidural or spinal or combined spinal-epidural anaesthesia) is administered by an anaesthetist (a doctor who delivers pain medicine) during labour to reduce discomfort. In both epidural and spinal anaesthesia, medications are placed near the nerves in your lower back to "block" pain in a wide region of your body while you stay awake. Regional anaesthesia greatly reduces pain throughout the birthing process. It can also be used if a Caesarean delivery becomes necessary.
  • Local anaesthesia may be used by your doctor or midwife during delivery to numb a painful area or after delivery if stitches are needed. Local anaesthetic drugs do not reduce discomfort during labour.

In addition, pain-relieving medications can be injected into a vein or a muscle to dull labour discomfort. These medications do not completely stop pain, but they may lessen it. Because they affect your entire body and may make both you and your baby sleepy, these drugs are mainly used during early labour to help you rest and conserve your energy.

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