Some ladies are lucky and can go through the usually painful experience of labour without any pain relief at all. For the majority of women, however, this is not the case and some form of pain relief will be required. Before the event takes place there is no way of knowing how it will be for you, so it is important to study and choose the pain relief options available to you.
Gas and Air
This is a mixture of 50% oxygen and 50% nitrous oxide that you breathe in through a mask or a mouthpiece as a contraction begins. It helps to reduce the amount of pain that you are in but will not take it away completely and should be available no matter where you decide to have your baby. You are in control of when you have it but it can make you feel light-headed and queasy.
This is given as an injection into the top of your thigh or your bottom and again should be available no matter where you have your baby. It will take about 20 minutes for it to start working and the effects will last for two to four hours. Pethidine can only be given in the first stages of labour; you must stop having it once you are close to giving birth. A side effect is that it may make you feel dizzy and sick and therefore it is often given with an anti-sickness drug.
This is probably the best known and most effective form of pain relief for women in labour and is given as an injection into your lower back that will numb you from the waist downwards. It can only be given by an anaesthetist and you can have one at any point during your labour although it is usually given when you are around five to six centimetres dilated. Although it will give you a pain-free labour, you will be bed-ridden for the entire length of your labour and you will need a drip into your arm and possibly a catheter. It takes 20 minutes to set the epidural up and then another 25 minutes to take effect. After that it can be topped-up as and when needed. Your baby’s heart rate will be constantly monitored by a belt around your tummy and it can only be given by an anaesthetist so you will not be able to have an epidural if you are planning a home birth.
TENS is short for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation and is a machine that stimulates the nerves in your back with a small electrical charge given through pads stuck on your back. There are dials on it so you can adjust the frequency and strength of the electrical pulses and there is a boost button to help you through particularly difficult contractions. It is most useful if you are suffering with lower back pain at the onset of labour. It will take about an hour for you to get the full benefits of the impulses but as it is small you can carry it about with you and keep mobile. These can be used for home births but you may need to hire one as not many hospitals have them.