It can be hard to know what type of pain relief to choose before labour starts, since you don't know what kind of pain you'll be dealing with. The only thing to do is read up about different pain relief solutions beforehand, so at least you're familiar with the options when the time comes.
Drug-free pain relief
• Massage: especially in the lower back region, is usually very pleasant during labour. This is a time when your partner can make themselves useful! A massage allows you to relax and can be used throughout the whole of the delivery.
• TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation): This small machine generates a gentle buzzing sensation that stimulates the nerves of the back via four electrodes. It can take the edge of the pain, dulling the intensity of contractions.
• Heat: a warm wheat bag or heat pack can be very soothing during the early stages of dilation.
• Warm water: floating almost weightlessly in warm water can take the strain off your body and offer soothing relief.
• Aromatherapy and bach flowers: Bach flower remedies such as rescue remedy sipped in a glass or water can help. Relaxing aromatherapy oils such as lavender can also be used, either in a burner or to scent a facecloth.
• Acupuncture or acupressure: A recent study found women using acupuncture were less likely to request and epidural and were more relaxed. Acupuncture has no side effects and does not affect the baby.
Drug treatment for pain relief
• Nitrous Oxide Gas: This is controlled by the woman, who breathes through a mouthpiece at the start of each contraction. The gas doesn’t affect the baby and leaves the mother’s system as quickly as it entered.
• Pethidine: administered via injection into the bottom for slow relief or into a vein for quicker relief, Pethidine takes the edge of contractions once labour is established and can help relax women during birth. It does, however, cross the placenta, and doctors avoid giving it within an hour of delivery as it can make the baby sleepy and unable to establish a breathing pattern.
• Epidural: this injection of anaesthetic is administered into the lower part of the back, and is usually given to women enduring a long, exhausting labour that is not progressing well. An epidural can actually take the pain away so you don’t feel any contractions. It takes 20 minutes to administer and about another 5 – 20 minutes to take effect. It generally wears off after a few hours. The anaesthetic doesn’t cross the placenta so doesn’t directly affect the baby.