Pain Relief During Labour

Before the birth of your child, it’s important to sit down and think about the type of birth you would like. Would you like to have your baby in hospital or at home? Do you want to use a birthing pool? What type of pain relief would you like to have available? You will need to consider all of these things when you write your birthing plan.

You should discuss your birthing plan with your healthcare provider and birth partner, so that they know how to best support you on the day. Of course, it is not a definitive plan, and you should be open to change on the day. While you may love the idea of a natural birth, on the day you may find yourself asking for drugs. Alternatively, if you plan to have an epidural immediately after the first contraction, you may surprise yourself by coping fine without.

Since you can’t predict in advance how you will feel during labour (even if you have given birth before, remember, all births are different), it makes sense to be read up on all the pain relief options available to you. That way you can make an informed decision on the day, even if labour isn’t quite what you were expecting.


This is the most commonly used form of pain relief used during childbirth in the US, as many as 66 percent of women opt for an epidural. An epidural provides continuous pain relief during labour. A thin hollow tube is inserted into the epidural space near the base of your spine. Once in place, a combination of narcotics and a local anaesthetic will be administered. An epidural should provide good pain relief, but may restrict your movements during labour.

Systemic medications

Systematic painkillers are used to dull pain, but will not eliminate it. Systemic drugs are delivered by IV or injected into muscle, and will affect your entire body. You will remain conscious while on systemic medications, but may feel sleepy. This form of pain relief is often described as ‘taking the edge off’, and may help you relax during labour. Systemic medications cross the placenta and may affect your baby, because of this, the amount you can take is limited.

Spinal block

A spinal block is a one-off injection into the spinal fluid. This provides fast pain relief that lasts just a few hours. Spinal blocks are often used for women who decide they want an epidural too late, or for when labour is progressing at speed. The major disadvantage to a spinal block is that it can inhibit the pushing stage and lead to a longer labour.

Combined spinal/epidural

This new technique offers fast and continuous relief. For the first hour or two, you may still be able to move around during labour, so this is a good option if you are hoping to stay mobile to help your labour progress. A combined spinal/epidural will reduce sensation which could cause problems during the pushing stage and lead to a longer labour.

Water birth

As well as helping you to stay mobile and upright during labour, birthing pools are said to provide pain relief. The warmth of the water can help to ease discomfort, and the support from the water may help you to move position easily during labour. Your healthcare provider will need to assess whether you are a suitable candidate for a water birth, and then you will need to choose a birthing centre that has pools available.

Natural birth

If you’re hoping to give birth without drugs, you may find relaxation techniques useful. Breathing exercises, meditation and hypnobirthing are all great tools to help you keep calm and focused through contractions.

What pain medication are you planning to use during childbirth?

Written by Fiona (@Fiona_Peacock), mother, writer and lover of all things baby related.

This information is not intended to replace the advice of a trained medical doctor. Health & Parenting Ltd disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information, which is provided to you on a general information basis only and not as a substitute for personalized medical advice. All contents copyright © Health & Parenting Ltd 2017. All rights reserved.