For most women, labour hurts. A lot! This article also appears on www.bbc.co.uk/parenting/having_a_baby
That's not to say it's always unbearable, or continuous. Labour pains come as contractions which build up to a peak and then fade. Thankfully you do get a break in between them. The breaks between get shorter as your labour progresses, but there is always a gap.
How you feel about the pain and cope with it will depend on your pain threshold, your personality, how well supported you feel, your levels of anxiety, whether you are under stress and so on.
If you decide you might need pain relief, do your homework and check out what's on offer. You should find out about what the side effects are, if any, and how effective a particular method is. Talk about your options with a midwife or doctor, and discuss it with other mums at your antenatal class. It will certainly be on the agenda " it's something everyone wants to know something about!
In all cases, if you've opted for no drugs and then have a change of heart, don't be afraid to say so. Bear in mind that once your labour is fully underway and you are becoming more dilated, it may be possible that not all pain relief will be available to you. Discuss this with your midwife as your labour progresses.
Pain relief doesn't necessarily mean taking drugs to reduce or take away the pain. Fear can often make pain much worse than it actually is. Especially in the case of first-time births, the fear of not knowing what is happening or what to expect can make labour seem more fraught and painful than it needs to be.
"...learning to relax can make a big difference..."
Learning to relax can make a big difference to your mentality during labour, as can feeling in control. Do not be afraid to ask your midwife questions. Your position can make a difference too. Don't be afraid to move about, kneel up or walk around. Whatever you feel most comfortable with.It helps to think about the pain positively " each pain is bringing the baby's arrival closer.
It's perfectly natural to worry about how you'll cope with the pain, but many women are able to really enjoy their births.
None of these have any side effects on your baby, and have no after-effects on you, either. The drawback is their effect is limited, and if you are in great pain, you may feel they don't help you enough.
If you choose to have your baby at home, all the non-drug forms of pain relief will be an option. The midwife will be able to give you nitrous oxide and/or pethidine should you want it. In hospital, all forms are available, but you might want to check epidurals are available at all times, as an anaesthetist is needed to give one.
Obviously, you'll need a complete form of pain relief for a 'c-section'. Most sections these days are done with an epidural, which means you're conscious throughout and you can hold your baby straight away. An alternative is a spinal anaesthetic which has similar effects, and which also allows you to stay awake. See our feature on Caesarean section.
Occasionally, you might be given a general anaesthetic. This could be by choice, or it might happen as an emergency, as it takes effect more quickly than an epidural. A general anaesthetic knocks you out completely, but you should still come round fairly soon after the procedure, even if you take a few hours to be 'all there'.
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