You may want to start thinking about whether you would like 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 — analgesics and anesthetics. Analgesics lessen the pain, while anesthetics block all pain and sensation. Some forms of anesthesia, such as general anesthesia, cause you to lose consciousness. General anesthesia usually is not used for vaginal births. Other forms, such as regional anesthesia, remove all feeling of pain from parts of the body while you stay conscious. Several forms of regional anesthesia are used during childbirth:
Epidural Block: Epidural blocks cause loss of some feeling in the lower part of a woman’s body, yet she remains awake and alert. An epidural block may be given soon after contractions start or later as labor progresses. It is given through a thin tube inserted in the lower back.
Spinal Block: A spinal block — like an epidural block — is done with an injection in the lower back. It provides good relief from pain and starts working fast, but it lasts only an hour or two. It usually is used for cesarean delivery and only rarely in late labor or for a vaginal delivery.
There are advantages and disadvantages for each form of anesthesia. An anesthesiologist will work with your health care team to help you choose the best method.