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Pain in Labor

Although pain is an inevitable part of labor, your doctor can help you with ideas for comfort, pain relief and anesthesia.

The pain experience in labor is different for every woman and for every labor.

Often adequate pain relief is an important part of a safe and rapid labor.

Here are some ideas about how to decrease or control labor pain.


Slow breathing while consciously trying to relax muscles in your shoulders, back, arms and abdomen can help labor proceed by allowing the uterus to contract. Distraction such as music, massage, water, ice, heat and standing upright can also be very helpful. These techniques are usually taught in childbirth classes.

IV Medication

IV medication such as demerol or stadol provides women with a reduction in pain and anxiety. It is administered through an IV line every one to three hours. Women often doze between contractions with welcome sedation and relaxation as the hours of labor pass more quickly. You can still get out of bed, walk to the bathroom or get in the shower if you like.

If you try IV medication but do not find it adequate for your labor pain, you may proceed to an epidural block.

Epidural Analgesia

An obstetric anesthesiologist is available at the hospital to give you an epidural block. Your labor nurse will place an IV and hydrate you with fluid prior to epidural placement. After cleaning a small spot on your lower back the doctor inserts a small tube into the space surrounding your spine. The procedure takes about five minutes and may require you to be still during contractions until the tube is secured to the skin with tape.

In 10-20 minutes the anesthetic in the epidural will begin to dramatically decrease labor pain while still allowing labor to progress. The anesthesiologist will put your epidural on a pump so that you can continue to receive pain relief during the remainder of your labor and delivery.

The anesthesiologist can adjust the anesthetic to meet your needs. You will likely still be aware of your contractions and the need to push.

An epidural can also be used for anesthesia during a cesarean section.

After an epidural is placed you will not be able to walk. Your bladder may need to be drained with a catheter. After delivery the anesthetic will wear off in about an hour.

Local Anesthetic

At the time of delivery an episiotomy may be performed to enlarge the vaginal opening for safe or rapid passage of the baby’s head. The skin is numbed with a local anesthetic prior to cutting the episiotomy. Sometimes more anesthetic is injected before the doctor repairs or stitches the incision. This anesthetic will wear off about an hour after delivery.

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