Pain Management in Labour

How you decide to manage your labour pain is up to you – know your options.

Every woman’s labour, labour pain and pain threshold is different. The most important thing is to keep an open mind; you may be adamant you want no pain relief and then become overwhelmed by pain. You may need some sort of pain management but want nothing other than support. How you decide to deal with the pain of labour is your decision - we are not here to push things on you but to provide you with options as is appropriate.

There are several methods of pain management at your disposal. You can choose medication free methods such as a warm bath, changing positions during labour (squatting, on hands and knees), or have your partner massage your back. Birthing balls, acupuncture and hypnosis are also pain free methods some women find helpful.

Another option is nitrous oxide, an anesthetic gas that you inhale. Pain relief is immediate but short-lived. Narcotic painkillers such as morphine and fentanyl last longer but have their drawbacks, if they are administered too close to delivery they can make the baby sleepy.

Local anesthetics can numb nerves in the vaginal area and regional anesthetics, like the epidural, are injected into your spine and block the pain from the waist down. The epidurals administered today have improved from years past and allow for pain control without muscle weakness; for Caesarean sections, a spinal anesthesia is used which is a more dense block and acts quicker, completely blocking the pain from the breastbone down. The epidural is a safe option for pain relief used by many women, however, some drawbacks are: a decreased ability to feel the natural urge to push, movement is limited, some women may require a catheter to drain urine from their bladder and some women may experience an 'epidural headache' after the procedure.

The University of Manitoba has developed a useful information pamphlet [PDF] that reviews the different options, risks and benefits. Be sure to talk to your health care provider about the methods you would be interested in trying and discuss any concerns about various options before your labour.