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Epidural or Nothing for Labor Pain?

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Updated June 01, 2012

Options for Pain Relief in Labor
Woman in Labor
Photo © Charles Gullung/Getty Images
When the subject of labor pain comes up, many women quickly steer the conversation to the epidural. Epidural anesthesia is a type of regional anesthesia that allows a mother to be awake for the birth of her baby and comfortable. Some moms feel completely numb, while others have some feeling but it’s more pressure than pain.

When you ask moms why they jump so quickly to the epidural the vast majority say that they don’t want to be in excruciating pain during the birth of their baby. When I ask them what other options they have considered most say nothing else. Why would you not consider something else? This is something I’ve asked time and time again. So many women look at me and say, “What else is there?” Basically they believe the choices are an epidural or nothing.

This was an amazing shock to me when I first considered it. There absolutely were other options than merely regional anesthesia when it came to address the pain of labor. Some of those options include:

There are many variations of these that can be used both alone and in combination with each other. There are trade offs and benefits to each option. Some of those also vary from woman to woman and even pregnancy to pregnancy. The best place to learn about these options is in a childbirth class, preferably one that truthfully explains all of the options in a realistic and non-biased way. This is usually an independent childbirth class or a class taught in a hospital but by a childbirth educator who is certified with an outside, international agency, like Lamaze International, Bradley or ICEA (International Childbirth Education Association).

In these classes you will learn about how to best choose which method of pain reliefs will be best for you given your circumstances, pregnancy history and body. You will learn how to maximize your pain relief that you control, to make labor all around more comfortable; even if you decide that an epidural is the best route for your labor.

Your childbirth educator will also show you how to manage your contractions and use a variety of positions and other techniques like comfort measures, positioning in labor and more to stay more comfortable in early labor, perhaps before an epidural or IV pain medications are allowed. A good example of this would be learning how to stay comfortable in early labor, while you are still in the comfort of your own home or how to be more comfortable on the drive to the hospital or birth center.

You may also learn other ways to control pain that you hadn’t thought about before. For example, we think we know what causes pain in labor – contractions. Well, certainly contractions do cause pain, but there are other things that are outside of your body, for example fetal monitoring straps. Your teacher will have a variety of ways to be monitored and still be comfortable, from using a birth ball next to the monitoring equipment or asking for water proof monitors so you can use the shower or even using telemetry monitoring so that you can watch your baby while being mobile. Moms report that something this simple can alleviate a lot of pain.

Your class will also include information about doulas. This is a person who is professional labor support, someone who is trained to help women and their families stay more comfortable in labor, no matter what type of pain relief methods you plan to use. Studies show that using a doula can decrease the length of labor, increase your satisfaction and make labor safer for you and baby because of decrease in interventions.

Relaxation techniques will also be taught. There are a lot of types of techniques that can be taught from progressive relaxation to vocalization and more. This will be useful at alleviating anxiety and fear, which can cause you added pain in your birth. These techniques need to be practiced through out your pregnancy for maximum effectiveness. And the secret here is that they are wonderfully effective at so many things over the course of your life.

So the next time you try to think of something you can do for labor pain, try to remember that the answer is not: epidural or nothing. Try to remember that a good childbirth class can give you a ton of options to consider other than the epidural alone, many more options that can be used alone or in combination with medicinal pain relief.

  1. About.com
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  4. Labor and Birth
  5. Pain Relief in Labor
  6. Epidurals
  7. Epidural or Nothing for Labor Pain?

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