Pain Management in Labor
When exploring your options, it may be wiser to first study the styles of pain management rather than the exact techniques of each style. This allows you to gain a better understanding of what each method or technique will require of you for its successful use during labor. You may find the Birth Style Quiz helpful in determining what types of techniques will be most beneficial to you. After choosing the style of pain management that best fits you and your life style, practice the techniques to gain mastery so you will be best able to use it during labor.
Epidural or Spinal Medication
The terms "epidural" and "spinal" do not refer to any specific medication, but the way in which the medication is administered. These techniques are generally referred to as regional blocks because the medication prevents the nerves from sending signals to the brain and so only numbs or reduces pain in part of the body (from the abdomen down). Administration will require you to sit or lye with your back rounded over for up to twenty minutes while an anesthesiologist inserts a catheter into your back. You will not be allowed to move during the insertion.
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Mental Relaxation Techniques
There are various mental relaxation techniques that can be used to promote relaxation during labor. Some techniques aim to focus your thoughts, others to distract you. To be successful at using mental relaxation techniques during labor, you will need to spend several weeks practicing with them. You can read some examples of mental relaxation.
Unlike a regional block, a narcotic analgesic will reduce your entire body's ability to sense pain or discomfort. These medications are administered through a shot or IV and will wear off within a few hours. Because of health risks to the baby, most health care providers will not recommend these types of medications if you are within two hours of your baby's birth.
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Physical Comfort Measures
In general, any technique that you use for physical comfort in your day to day life can be used during labor. Hot and cold packs can be useful if you feel cramping or a back ache. Massage can help to refresh sore muscles. Sipping warm tea or cool water can keep you hydrated and energized. Using physical comfort measures successfully during labor doesn't take much practice, however you will need to find a way to remind yourself to use these techniques during labor. It may be beneficial to familiarize yourself with the tools available to you at your birth place. You may also find that reviewing suggestions for how to use comfort meausres helps prepare you for using these techniques in labor.
The way in which your body is positioned during labor can make a difference in the sensations that you feel. Some positions improve your baby's ability to navigate through the pelvis, other positions hinder his efforts. Some positions can help to reduce the pressure associated with a back labor, other positions make it easier to relax your body and rest. A support person can usually help you make position changes without having practiced positions, however to understand how to use positions effectively you may want to read about the benefits of specific positions during labor. It is also important to understand that some medical interventions will limit your ability to change positions.
Most hospitals and birth centers have both tubs and showers for your use during labor. Many women find that they are better able to relax and can handle their contractions with less discomfort while they lie in a tub of warm water. A shower is equally useful in easing discomfort, and has the added advantage of the pressure of the stream of water that can be positioned to massage you just about anywhere you may need it.
Using Pain Management Techniques
Once labor starts, you should be able to use your pain management techniques effectively by:
Paying attention to your body
How do you feel the most comfortable? If you feel better standing up, then stand up. If you find massage to be too distracting, ask your support person to stop. Remember that pain and discomfort are signals the body sends to tell us to do something else.
Creating a routine
Many women find that having a routine procedure for contractions helps them to manage the contractions. Your routine could be as simple as a deep breath when the contraction starts, lean over and have someone rub your back. The value of the routine is in knowing that you have an established way to respond to the contraction.
Varying the techniques you use
As labor progresses and your baby moves deeper through the pelvis, the sensations you feel will change. As your sensations change, you may need to change the way you handle contractions. You may find a subtle change in position is effective, or you may need to make a major change in the routine you have developed. Understand also that techniques that stopped being helpful may become helpful again later in labor.
Any medication you take during labor will affect the baby. Please refer to the appropriate pages to review the risks of specific medications.
Most non-medicinal comfort measures have no medical risks, however positions may be uncomfortable or the technique may not work effectively causing frustration.