Today’s pregnant women have many options when it comes to pain management during labor. They can have complete, moderate, mild or even no pain management at all. While so many women frequently ask which kind of pain medication is the best for labor and delivery, many doctors are unable to answer this question. Every woman is different with specific needs and expectations, so of course, a doctor is only able to suggest certain options based on what a woman desires. Some women do not decide whether they want any medication or not until they are in the middle of labor.
One kind of pain management is known as Systematic medication. This kind of medicine affects both you and your baby’s bodies. The first kind of systematic medication is analgesics or narcotics such as Stadol or the more common Demerol. These are generally given during active labor (when the laboring woman is dilated 3 to 7 cm) through an IV. This medication will increase a woman’s pain tolerance and help her to relax, although it can cause extreme drowsiness, speed up or slow down the labor process, cause nausea and vomiting or cause respiratory or neuro depressions in a new baby. The second is a tranquilizer. This is given in either early or active labor through an IV. One advantage of this medication is that it decreases fear or anxiety which in turn allows the mother-to-be to relax. If a tranquilizer is given with a narcotic it can increase the effectiveness, allowing it to provide more and better pain relief, though a tranquilizer will not offer any pain relief if used by itself. The last form of systematic medication is a sedative, like Seconal. This is an oral medication given during the early stages of labor. This allows the laboring woman to relax and rest and helps to progress a slow phase of labor. This medication is not intended for pain relief, and can cause severe drowsiness.
Another option in pain management is a regional anesthetic. A regional anesthetic is used to numb or block pain in certain parts of the body. A local anesthetic is injected into the perineum during crowning to prepare the area for an episiotomy or to fix a tear. This drug is very effective and has little or no known side effect for baby. A pudendal block is given strictly for delivery and is injected into the vaginal wall blocking the pudendal nerve (nerve that runs along the sides of the cervix). This medication is not effective in all patients and does not block pain from contractions, which can allow a laboring woman to be aware of when and how to push her baby out.
The most commonly used form of labor medication is the Epidural block. This method involves the placing of a small catheter into the lower back through which the anesthetic is injected. The medication can either be injected in just one dose but may be re-administered as needed. The catheter in the back allows the re-administration to be quick and without multiple injections with a needle. This medication relieves pain in the lower abdomen and below. After an epidural is administered a woman will not be able to move around, so it is best for a woman to be absolutely positive she is ready to spend the remainder of her labor and delivery in bed before requesting this form of medication. If a woman has had blood pressure problems, bleeding, or lower back surgery she should let her doctor know as soon as possible as some of these problems may exclude her from the use of an epidural. Like the epidural block, the spinal block is injected into the lower back and provides pain relief in the lower abdomen and below. Though, this form of aid often stalls labor so is only administered during delivery. Spinal blocks are the medication most commonly used in non-emergency cesarean sections.
While the options are plentiful for pain relief during labor, some women opt for no pain medication at all. This, of course, is an option but a woman who wishes to attempt labor without aid should let her doctor know as soon as possible.
Labor is not the time for a woman to push herself to be tough! Many hospitals have taken on the philosophy that no one knows when a good time for medication is better than the laboring mother herself. A woman should not be afraid to or ashamed of speaking up and asking for medication. It may relieve stress and help to keep both the laboring mother and baby in good health!