Pregnancy Prep: Pain relief explained

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Find out about the different types of pain relief available during labour

Woman in labour

© Getty - Handbag

Part of making your birth plan will involve you thinking about the types of pain relief you might like to use during labour. Write down your wishes in your birth plan, but remember that you should keep an open mind. You may find that when it comes to the big day you want more pain relief than you'd planned, or your doctor or midwife may suggest more effective pain relief to help the delivery.

Here are some forms of pain relief that may be offered to you.


These self help techniques can help you to be more relaxed in labour, which can help you to cope with the pain.

- Learn all you can about labour - this can make you feel more in control and less frightened about what's going to happen.
- Learn how to relax, stay calm and breathe deeply.
- Keep moving. Your position can make a difference, so try kneeling, walking around or rocking backwards and forwards or all fours.

Hydrotherapy (being in water)

Water can help you relax and make the contractions seem less painful. Ask if you can have a bath or use a birth pool during labour. Your midwife will keep the water at a comfortable temperature for you, and your own temperature will be monitored.

Gas and air (Entonox)
This is a mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide gas. Gas and air won't remove all the pain but it can help to reduce it and make it more bearable. Many women like it because it's easy to use and they control it themselves. You breathe in the gas and air through a mask or mouthpiece, which you hold yourself. The gas takes about 15 to 20 seconds to work, so you breathe it in just as a contraction begins. It works best if you take slow, deep breaths.

Another form of pain relief is the intramuscular injection (into the muscle of your thigh or buttock) of a drug, such as pethidine or diamorphine. This can also help you to relax, which can lessen the pain but it can make some women feel queasy. It takes about 20 minutes to work after the injection, and the effects last between two and four hours.

This stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. Some hospitals have TENS machines. If not, you can hire your own machine. TENS is most effective during the early stages when many women experience low back pain. TENS may be useful while you're at home in the early stages of labour. Electrodes are taped onto your back and connected by wires to a small battery-powered stimulator. Holding this, you give yourself small, safe amounts of current through the electrodes. TENS is believed to work by stimulating the body to produce more of its own natural painkillers, called endorphins.

An epidural is a special type of local anaesthetic. It numbs the nerves that carry the pain impulses from the birth canal to the brain. For most women, an epidural gives complete pain relief. It can be helpful for women who are having a long or particularly painful labour, or who are becoming distressed.

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