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Labor Pain Medication

Drugs and other techniques for labor pain management

Though it may vary in intensity, pain is generally a characteristic of childbirth. Labor pain results from the regular contraction of the uterus, as well as from pressure on the cervix as it dilates and the baby moves into position. The baby may also put pressure on the bladder and bowels, which can also contribute to labor pain.

The actual experience of pain during labor may be different for every woman, and there's no way to predict how painful labor might be (though if a woman has experienced previous childbirth, that may be an indicator). Labor pain can be mild or extreme, intermittent or constant. Generally, it is experienced as cramping in the abdomen and groin, as well as, to varying degrees, the back. (Profound back pain during labor is often referred to as "back labor".) Some women also feel pain in their sides and/or thighs. Localized labor pain is often also accompanied by a general achiness and fatigue.

No matter the location, intensity, or duration of pain, there are several options, both medical and natural, for labor pain management.

Labor Pain Relief through Medication

There are two major types of drugs used for pain relief during labor:

  • analgesics, which are pain medications such as morphine and Demerol, and
  • anesthetics, which are nerve blockers such as epidurals.

Both kinds of labor pain medication have associated risks and side effects, but they are generally considered safe for both mother and baby. In the case of analgesics, use too close to delivery may cause lethargy in the baby. Common side effects for the mother include drowsiness and nausea. With epidurals, the biggest concern is that the mother will have difficulty pushing the baby out, and there is a small risk of fetal distress caused by the drop in the mother's blood pressure that usually results from an epidural.

Your doctor or midwife can provide more detailed information about your labor pain management options and the pros and cons of each.

Other Labor Pain Relief Methods

If you don't want to use medication for labor pain relief, there are a number of natural techniques that may help. These include deep breathing, visualization, change of body position, mild movement, distraction (reading, watching TV), and warm showers or baths. Remember, though, that labor often hurts more than women anticipate, and many who plan a natural birth end up requesting medication. List your preferred methods of labor pain management in your birth plan, but be prepared for them to change in the moment.

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