Pain Relief During Labor and Delivery
Each woman's labor is unique. The amount of pain a woman feels during labor may differ from that felt by another woman. Pain depends on many factors, such as the size and position of the baby and the strength of contractions.
Some women take classes to learn breathing and relaxation techniques to help cope with pain during childbirth. Others may find it helpful to use these techniques along with pain medications.
Types of Pain Relief
There are 2 types of pain-relieving drugs — analgesics and anesthetics. Analgesia is the relief of pain without total loss of feeling or muscle movement. Analgesics do not always stop pain completely, but they do lessen it.
Systemic analgesics are often given as injections into a muscle or vein. They lessen pain but will not cause you to lose consciousness. They act on the whole nervous system rather than a specific area.
Local anesthesia provides numbness or loss of sensation in a small area. It does not, however, lessen the pain of contractions.
Regional analgesia tends to be the most effective method of pain relief during labor and causes few side effects. Epidural analgesia, spinal blocks, and combined spinal-epidural blocks are all types of regional analgesia that are used to decrease labor pain.
General anesthetics are medications that put you to sleep (make you lose consciousness). If you have general anesthesia, you are not awake and you feel no pain. General anesthesia often is used when a regional block anesthetic is not possible or is not the best choice for medical or other reasons.
Anesthesia for Cesarean Births
Whether you have general, spinal, or epidural anesthesia for a cesarean birth will depend on your health and that of your baby. It also depends on why the cesarean delivery is being done. In emergencies or when bleeding occurs, general anesthesia may be needed.