Alternative Pain Relief to Epidurals!

DISCLAIMER: Please make sure you discuss all your options and ideas for pain relief with your medical care provider to ensure that you are safe and properly cared for.

A lot of people have heard of epidurals as being the medical God-send making childbirth tolerable.  It’s true, it does provide great pain relief in almost all cases.  However, there are also several risks and results associated with epidural use and, depending on what is important to you for your birth, they can affect the outcome of birth.  Here is a quick list of pros and cons of epidural use:

– pain relief
– able to get some rest if labour has been long
– can relieve anxiety and tension
– can lower blood pressure in birthers with hypertension

– first: it’s a needle into your spine
– can affect baby’s & birther’s heart rates
– can slow labour progress requiring oxytocin augmentation
– can create longer labour
– requires IV for fluids, heart rate monitors, possible bladder catheter
– restricts movement & options for positions in pushing stage
– makes pushing harder due to numbness
– pain at injection site
– doesn’t always work completely
– increases risk of instrumental birth
– possible shivering, itching , fluid retention

“So what am I supposed to do then, Vanessa?  Labour is hard work and I don’t love pain!”
– You

Ah, good question.  Of course no one is really fond of pain, but it’s pain with a purpose and it’s natural — not like breaking bones or when the body is saying there’s something wrong.  Here are some alternative pain relieving methods:

Laughing Gas
A 50/50 mix of nitrous oxide and oxygen is an option available at the hospital.  It may not make the pain go away, but it more so makes you not care about it so much.  Side affects are not common, but may include sedation, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.  It’s only in your system for about 35 seconds, so most people have little to no lasting effects.  According to the Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, “Nitrous oxide labor analgesia is safe for the mother, fetus, and neonate and can be made safe for caregivers. It is simple to administer, does not interfere with the release and function of endogenous oxytocin, and has no adverse effects on the normal physiology and progress of labor” (Rooks, 2011).  Check out more facts here.

TENS Machine
TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (transcutaneous means “on the skin”).  This handheld device is a non-medical option that stimulates your nerves via an electrical current through four soft pads stuck to your skin.  It’s great for relieving some of the muscle tension in the back and hips.  Gotta take it off if going in a bath or shower, but the pads can be re-stuck.  More info and details about TENS here.

Sterile Water Injections
This is one that not all hospitals or doctors/midwives can offer, but you can request. It would be best to make the request prior to labour starting (in a prenatal appointment with your care provider) to see if it is an option for you.
The procedure involves four syringes of sterile water being injected just under the skin of the lower back / sacrum area.  This can be great especially for intense back labour, and can provide pain relief for up to 6 hours!  Relief is immediate, but the injection pain is comparable to wasp stings.  Here is an interesting research-based read from the UK.

Most people have heard about using heat to help with pain.  A rice sock or Magic Bag type thing that can be heated and held or moved around the birthing person’s back during contractions and offer really nice comfort.  And most hospitals (and homes!) have microwaves to heat those up.  Hot showers offer similar comfort.

Bath / Birth Pool
Labouring in water can be really great pain relief.  Floating in water offers relief through buoyancy, and warmth which can relieve tension.  Some hospitals have tubs now, and pools are available for home births.  Care providers may recommend against getting into a pool or bath if waters have broken due to a slightly increased risk of infection.

So there are a few!  What are some other pain relieving comfort measures that you have used or heard about?  Comment below 🙂

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