Labor is a natural -- although challenging -- process. No two women have the same degree of labor pain, and no two labors are exactly alike. Ultimately, you need to choose the pain relief option that's right for you.
The best approach to labor pain relief depends on your preferences and on how your labor progresses. Sometimes, you won't know what kind of pain relief you want until you're in labor. Still, it's a good idea to think about your options for managing labor pain ahead of time. Find out what's available at your hospital or birthing center, and discuss your preferences with your health care provider.
Consider the options
There are many ways to ease and control labor pain. Relaxation exercises, breathing techniques and frequent changes of position often help -- particularly in the early stages of labor. Your partner or labor coach can massage or firmly press on your lower back, or apply ice packs or heat to your lower back. Other options include playing music and taking a shower or bath.
As labor progresses -- and contractions become stronger and more frequent -- many women add medication to their arsenal of pain relief options. Epidural and spinal blocks, for instance, temporarily block pain in the lower body. An epidural can be used continuously throughout labor, while a spinal block is typically used shortly before delivery. Alternatively, narcotics or other medications can be used to alter pain perception.
Nontraditional options for managing labor pain might include hypnosis, acupuncture, water immersion or reflexology. These techniques won't stop the pain of contractions, but they might help you feel more relaxed and better able to handle labor pain.
Understand the pros and cons
Each pain management option has pros and cons. Relaxation and breathing techniques can distract you and help you feel a better sense of control, but they might not dull the pain. Medication can make contractions less painful, but you might experience side effects -- such as drowsiness, nausea or itchiness. With some medications, you might be restricted to bed or to a specific position, and your bladder might need to be emptied by a catheter. Some medications can affect your baby, too. If you're given systemic analgesics shortly before delivery, for instance, your newborn could experience temporary breathing problems or slowed reflexes.