Pain Relief Options in Labour
The intensity (and nature) of pain during childbirth can vary a great deal between women, since different people have their own individual threshold of pain and since every labour is different.
A first delivery is likely to be more painful, and to last longer than a second or third. Indeed, about one in 40 women will experience only minimal pain or discomfort during labour and delivery.
We all know that giving birth can be painful, and this, along with the fear of the unknown (which itself can make labour pain worse), can be a source of worry for mothers-to-be. It has been suggested that women may feel less pain when they give birth if they are more aware of what actually happens during labour. As such, it may help to build up your confidence and overcome any major fears if you try to find out as much as possible about the different stages of labour so you can have a better understanding of what you might feel. This is where antenatal and birth preparation classes are a great help. It also helps if you can go on a tour of the hospital delivery suite beforehand.
It is in your best interest to learn about the various approaches to pain relief during childbirth currently available in your area, and to understand how they work. Being aware of the different options, and of their benefits and drawbacks, as well as recognising your own limits of pain tolerance will allow you to prepare yourself better and make an informed choice as to how you would like your labour and delivery to proceed.
Many women opt to use some form of pain-relieving method, be it natural or medical, to help them cope during labour. It may also help having someone around when you give birth to offer you both physical and emotional support. Having someone to lean on has been found to reduce the need for pain relief and intervention for delivery, as well as the overall length of labour.
Whatever decision you make with regard to what form of pain relief, if any, you would like during childbirth, make sure that you have the opportunity to discuss your plans with your healthcare professional to ensure that your preferences are suitable for your needs and are available in your area.
Usually, these choices are left up to you but, occasionally, there may be medical or obstetric problems which can make it harmful to use one form of pain relief, and/or safer to have another. For instance, people with back or clotting problems may not always be able to have an epidural. On the other hand, obstetricians usually advise an epidural if you have twins or are having a breech birth, or if your blood pressure goes up during labour.
Once you have decided your preferences, you can then draw up your birthplan. As always, though, since you can never predict how labour will progress, it is important to remain flexible in case things do not run as smoothly as you would like. You can also change your mind, and many women do.
However, bear in mind that some methods are more suitable for early labour, while others are not suitable until it is clear that labour is well established.