Giving Birth: Understanding Your Pain Relief OptionsLet’s face it, the prospect of giving birth can be utterly terrifying! You may have some idea of what it’s going to be like after talking to friends and family, but until you actually go into labor, it’s impossible to know exactly what to expect.

Although it is terrifying, there are ways to lower your birth anxiety. One of the best things you can do to combat those nerves is to decide which type of pain relief you’re going to use. The majority of women choose to have some form of pain relief to make labor run a little smoother.

Whether you’re considering traditional or natural pain relief, below you’ll discover some of the main options open to you.

Medical Pain Relief Options

For the majority of pregnant women, medical pain relief options tend to be the most popular. They’re known to work, they’re readily available and they’ve been significantly improved over the years.

While medical pain relief isn’t for everyone, for those who are open to it, it can really make giving birth a much less painful experience. So, what medical pain relief options do you have?

Epidural – Epidurals are by far the most common pain relief option provided during labor. Considering they’re known to eliminate anything from 95% to 100% of the pain experienced during labor, it’s unsurprising they’re so popular!

A local anesthetic will be used to numb an area of the back, before the epidural is inserted.  Anesthetic alone, or a combination of anesthetic and narcotics, will then be injected into the spinal canal. This shouldn’t be painful, though you will likely feel some pressure. It takes around 20 minutes for the epidural to kick in.

It works by basically numbing the nerve fibers within your spinal cord, ensuring you feel less pain during contractions. Typically, you’ll need to have a catheter inserted too so that anesthetic and narcotics can be administered gradually to maintain the pain relief right through until delivery.  

Opioids – A less common, but effective pain relief option is opioids. These include drugs such as morphine, Stadol and Fentanyl. Unlike an epidural, they won’t actually numb the body. Instead, they use the nervous system to block out the pain.

This type of pain relief can be given through an IV, or as an injection. They can be given either during the contraction stage of labor, or early on. Typically, doctors do avoid giving opioids once you’ve started pushing as there’s a possibility they can affect your baby if they’re given too late in labor.

Compared to an epidural, opioids don’t take away as much pain and they also last for approximately two hours. So, they’re largely used to help you get some pain-free rest until the later stages of delivery.

Spinal Block – This is very similar to an epidural, but the anesthetic is injected much closer to the spinal cord. So, it basically numbs the body much quicker than an epidural.

This type of pain relief is much more common for women who arrive at the hospital in active labor. If you can’t wait the 20 minutes it would take for an epidural to kick in, a spinal block is ideal. It’s also worth noting that spinal blocks are typically used during c-sections.

As spinal blocks tend to only last up to two hours, they’re often used in conjunction with epidurals. AA catheter may be placed at the same time as the spinal block, to switch to an epidural when the block wears off.

Pudendal Block – This is the least common pain relief method. It’s typically only used in the later stages of labor if an epidural wasn’t an option, and forceps or suction cups are required to deliver the baby.  They help to minimize pain within the perineum and lower vagina.

An anesthetic is injected directly into the vaginal wall nerves, relieving pain for up to one hour. It’s not pleasant, but it can help if other pain relief methods haven’t been an option.

Nitrous Oxide – This is another good pain relief method, often referred to as “Gas and air” or “laughing gas”. Although it’s not overly common in the US, it is starting to gain in popularity.

A mask will be given to you to place over your nose and mouth. This delivers a mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide. It doesn’t taste or smell of anything and it largely reduces anxiety, making the pain a lot more manageable.

The great thing about this option is that you control how much you have. If you need more, you can have more, you’re in control. However, it’s worth noting that many hospitals won’t offer this treatment, so you will need to check if it’s something you’re interested in.

Natural Pain Relief Options

If for whatever reason you don’t want to use medical pain relief, you do have some more natural options.

Hot water is said to be particularly good at relieving lower back pain during labor. Many women choose to take hot showers to relieve their pain up to six times throughout the labor. However, you can also get the same pain relief if the body is submerged in water. This is why many women choose a water birth and report reduced pain compared to their hospital bed deliveries.

Changing positions as your labor progresses could also work wonders. Did you know for example, that lying flat on your back is typically the most painful position? Ideally, you’ll want to focus on forward leaning, upright postures. This is because contractions tend to push forwards. So, if you work your body in time with the contractions, pushing it forwards, you’ll typically feel less pain than you would if you pushed against them.

Another great effective natural option is massage. Studies have shown that massage carried out by a partner, can reduce both pain and anxiety during labor. Your partner doesn’t need to take professional massage lessons. Even just gentle stokes on the body can help to lift the mood and ease the pain of contractions.

These are just three natural options available. If you do a little research, you’ll find there’s a surprising number of natural pain relief options you can try out. It’s still worth considering medical pain relief, but knowing what natural option are out there can help you to make the best decision.


Choosing your pain relief options can help to really reduce your birth anxiety and prepare you for what’s to come. It’s also a good idea to talk through these options with your doctor to see which ones they suggest will work better in your circumstances. Ultimately however, the choice is yours so don’t feel pushed into choosing something you’re not sure about.


This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or licensed medical professional before making any medical decisions.

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