Learning About Pain Relief Options for a Vaginal Birth

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What are pain relief options for childbirth?

Your pain relief choices for childbirth may include medical and nonmedical treatments. Medical choices can include IV medicines or epidural anesthesia. Massage and focused breathing are some of the nonmedical options. Some people choose to use both kinds of pain relief. Knowing your options can help you prepare for childbirth.

What are some examples?

You have many choices to help with childbirth pain. There are medical options. And there are lots of nonmedical options too.

Nonmedical options include:

  • Breathing techniques. They can help distract you from pain.
  • Imagery. For example, you could imagine your contractions as waves rolling over you.
  • Changing positions. This can help you be more comfortable.
  • Massage.
  • Laboring in water.

Having a doula or support person with you might help shorten your labor. And you might be less likely to need medicines for pain.

For medical options, you have a few choices. They are often based on timing. They include:

  • IV medicines.
  • Spinal and epidural pain relief. These can also be used in a cesarean birth (C-section).
  • A pudendal block. It numbs the vagina and perineum during the pushing part of labor.
  • Nitrous oxide. You can give this to yourself by breathing it in through a mouthpiece or mask.

What are the risks?

Pain relief options for childbirth are very safe. But some have risks. Talk to your doctor or midwife about which treatments you plan to use. And ask them about any risks for those options.

What should you tell your doctor?

Tell your doctor about your health history. Let them know if you or a family member has had problems with anesthesia in the past. You can also talk to the doctor about medical and nonmedical pain relief options for childbirth. Plan for what you want. But be aware that things can change during labor.

Depending on your health conditions, your doctor may want to have an epidural catheter placed early in labor. This would only be used if needed. For example, you may plan to use nonmedical pain relief but then decide later that you want medicines. Or the catheter would be used to give you anesthesia if you need a cesarean (C-section) for your or your baby's health and safety.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.