Pain Relief During Childbirth
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Giving birth is rightly regarded as an extremely uncomfortable and painful experience for many mothers, and while for some women labor goes quickly and relatively easily, for others it can turn into a real ordeal. Where our grandmothers had to go through the pain barrier more or less unaided, there are quite a few options available for todays pregnant women that can lessen or even completely remove the pain, allowing the joyfulness of giving birth a much greater chance to be appreciated.
- Birthing Pool
Being in water during the early stages of labor can greatly relieve the contraction pains in some women, as the bouyancy takes some of the pressure off the muscles of the lower back. Some women prefer to stay in the water right through to the later stages of labor, and some even choose to complete the birth in a birthing pool.
Birthing pools have become increasingly popular in recent years, as they are seen as a natural way of reducing pain, in line with today's widespread preference for keeping things simple and as close to nature as possible.
A TENS machine is a small electronic device which you attach to your lower back with electrode pads. The machine passes a very slight electric current through the pads, which is intended to interfere with the pain signals, reducing the extent of the discomfort. The level of current can usually be increased during contractions, and then lowered back down as the pain subsides again. Some women find TENS machines to be highly effective, while for others the effect is minimal. The devices can usually be hired from the hospital, but are relatively cheap to buy yourself if you want to be sure that one will be available.
- Gas and Air
This is also known as entonox, and is a mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen that is breathed in via a pipe whenever the mother-to-be feels the need. It is a very light method of pain relief, and is enough on it's own for some women, especially in straightforward births. The effect is more of a distraction from the pain than an actual reduction, but doesn't feature the drawbacks of the two more heavy-duty pain relief drugs below.
An epidural is an injection of pain relief drugs direct into the lumbar region, and is extremely effective at blocking pain. The initial injection must be performed by a doctor, although the drug levels can then be subsequently topped up by the midwife for as long as it is required. Early epidurals also interfered with movement, and so the entire birth had to be carried out lying down, but more advanced versions of the drugs used now allow the mother to walk around a little to relieve discomfort.
This is the strongest pain relief option available in most cases, and is extremely effective in stopping pain over a 3 to 4 hour period. Unlike an epidural, it can't be used indefinitely, and only two doses are usually allowed, meaning it is less than ideal for labors lasting longer than 8 hours or so. The drug can also pass through to the infant, in some cases delaying the start of breathing. Antidotes are, however, available should this occur.
Although the choice of which method of pain relief to use is usually left up to the mother, most midwives recommend starting with the less invasive choices such as TENS and gas and air, only moving up to drug treatments if necessary later on.