How can I manage labor pain?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

Virtually all women worry about how they will cope with the pain of labor and delivery. Childbirth is different for everyone. So no one can predict how you will feel. The amount of pain a woman feels during labor depends partly on the size and position of her baby, the size of her pelvis, her emotions, the strength of the contractions, and her outlook.

Some women do fine with natural methods of pain relief alone. Many women blend natural methods with medications that relieve pain. Building a positive outlook on childbirth and managing fear may also help some women cope with the pain. It is important to realize that labor pain is not like pain due to illness or injury. Instead, it is caused by contractions of the uterus that are pushing your baby down and out of the birth canal.

Natural Methods of Pain Relief
Things women do to ease the pain include:

  • Trying breathing and relaxation techniques
  • Taking warm showers or baths
  • Getting massages
  • Using heat and cold, such as heat on lower back and cold washcloth on forehead
  • Having the supportive care of a loved one, nurse, or doula
  • Finding comfortable positions while in labor (stand, crouch, sit, walk, etc.)
  • Using a labor ball
  • Listening to music

More and more women in the United States are using water to find comfort during labor. This is called hydrotherapy. Laboring in a tub of warm water helps women feel physically supported, and keeps them warm and relaxed. Plus, it is easier for laboring women to move and find comfortable positions in the water.

Medical Methods of Pain Relief
While you are in labor, your doctor, midwife, or nurse should ask if you need pain relief. It is her job to help you decide what option is best for you. Nowadays women in labor have many pain relief options that work well and pose small risks when given by a trained and experienced doctor. Doctors also can use different methods for pain relief at different stages of labor. Still, not all options are available at every hospital and birthing center. Plus your health history, allergies, and any problems with your pregnancy will make some methods better than others.

This answer is based on source information from the National Women's Health Information Center.

Paula Greer
Midwifery Nursing Specialist

There are four basic approaches to dealing with labor pain:

  • Holistic approaches
  • IV Sedation
  • Nitrous Oxide
  • Epidural anesthesia

If you plan to avoid medication during labor and to experience a natural birth there are many techniques you can utilize during the labor and birthing process to help you distract or cope with pain. These include breathing /relaxation techniques, hypnotherapy, massage, music therapy, hydrotherapy, acupressure, acupuncture, birth balls, rebozo's, heat, ice, rolling pins, tennis balls, rice socks, counter pressure, double hip squeeze, knee press, abdominal lifting, and frequent position changes like squatting, kneeling, hands and knees, pelvic rocking, tailor sitting, dancing etc. Many of these techniques are taught by childbirth educators or during prenatal visits utilizing the group model of pregnancy centering and are also demonstrated in childbirth books. These techniques can also be performed by your midwife, labor nurse or doula.

If these methods just are not enough during your labor you can request other alternatives of medication either IV sedation, nitrous oxide or an epidural. It is important to discuss your concerns about pain and be informed of your choices with your health care provider. Remember to be flexible in case your labor takes an unexpected detour and that our goal is always a healthy mom and healthy baby.

Follow these tips to ease labor discomforts:

  • Do relaxation and breathing techniques taught in childbirth class.
  • Have your partner massage or firmly press on your lower back.
  • Change positions often.
  • Take a shower or bath, if permitted.
  • Place an ice pack on your back.
  • Use tennis balls for massage.
  • When contractions are closer together and stronger, rest in between and take slow, deep breaths.
  • If you become warm or perspire, soothe yourself with cool, moist cloths.

Keep in mind that one woman’s pain is another woman’s discomfort as pain tolerance can vary considerably form one person to another. Some women manage the discomfort of labor by using prepared childbirth techniques, the birthing ball, warm showers, and/or systemic medication administered through an IV. Others chose to have epidural analgesia. This is a commonly used method to provide relief from the pain of labor or cesarean birth. It involves an injection into your lower back.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.