When my sister-in-law gave birth to each of her two children she asked for an epidural anesthetic. “When it comes to labor, just give me the drugs,” she says with a laugh. “I don’t want to feel a thing.”

I opted for narcotics and hydrotherapy with the birth of my first child, and found patterned breathing and relaxation techniques very helpful with the other two.

There are also many other ways to manage pain during labor.

The key is to find out what’s out there, learn the pros and cons of each approach, and then make a decision, taking into account your preferences, your health care provider’s recommendations and what’s available at your health care facility.

The following are some common pain management options for labor.

Natural techniques

Some women want to deal with labor pains in the least invasive way possible. Others prefer a combination of natural methods and other approaches. Whatever your preference for managing labor pain, it’s ideal to be informed about natural techniques because, if nothing else, they can help create a more relaxed, positive birthing experience.

Massage and other types of touch

Different types of touch can be used to release tension and ease labor pains. These include hydrotherapy, reflexology and a variety of massage techniques.

Hydrotherapy involves the use of water — from a warm, pulsing shower to a birthing tub – to help a woman move through the various stages of labor.

Reflexology is based on the theory that stimulation of nerve endings in the feet can relieve pain or problems in other parts of the body.

Some women find there is nothing more soothing than firm pressure in the area of greatest during active labor. Others like something as simple as a bear hug to ease tension in early labor. There are also specific massage techniques that have been shown to be effective in reducing muscle tightness and relieving anxiety during the birthing process. You will want to learn about and try different massage options to find what feels best for you.

Patterned breathing

While some women prefer deep breathing for relaxation purposes, others find inhaling just enough air to fill their chest helps them feel calm and relaxed. You will want to experiment to find out what is most soothing for you.

There are also specific breathing patterns that can be used at different labor stages. You may want to speak to your health-care provider about these.

Sight, sound, taste and smell

Consider using inspiring pictures, soft lighting, lulling music, or comforting scents such lavender, sage or jasmine, to make your birthing experience as tranquil and positive as possible.


Ever thought of fighting pain with your thoughts? Women have found that imagining tranquil places like a sunny beach or focusing on progressively relaxing each part of their body can help reduce pain.

In addition to the above alternative pain management options there are a number of natural delivery techniques that have been used for many years. These include the Alexander Technique (www.alexandertech.org), the Bradley Method (www.bradleybirth.com) and LaMaze (www.lamaze.org).

Common narcotics
Narcotics are a type of analgesic which offer pain relief without interfering with a woman’s ability to push during labor.

They’re considered less invasive than anesthetic options and are usually given in small doses and during the early stages of labor.
Narcotics may have a range of side effects on the mother and baby, so it’s best to be informed about both the risks and benefits.

Epidurals and other anesthetics

Many people have heard of the epidural but what not all may realize is that it is one of a number of options for providing local anesthesia during childbirth.

The epidural anesthesia blocks pain in a particular region of the body, with the goal being to provide pain relief, rather than total lack of feeling. Epidurals result in decreased sensation in the lower half of the body by blocking nerve impulses from the lower spinal segments. (1)

Other options for providing local anesthesia include pudendal blocks and spinal blocks. (2)

In addition to local anesthesia, general anesthesia, which refers to a total loss of both sensation and consciousness, may be used for childbirth. But this is very rare because the woman’s participation is critical for a safe and productive birth. The occasions when general anesthesia may be employed include when a woman cannot tolerate a regional anesthetic or when an epidural or spinal block cannot be placed.

Being anxious about labor is natural, even if you’ve experienced it a few times. But being prepared and informed will contribute significantly to a positive experience.

…1, 2; www.americanpregnancy.org


By Michelle Strutzenberger