There are many ways of helping to relieve pain and discomfort during labour. These can range from simple things that you can do at home such as relaxing in water, walking about and TENS machines to Entonox (gas and air), pethidine and epidurals. You will be given a separate leaflet on pain relief. All women are different, and one method of pain relief may work well for some and not for others. It is best to keep an open mind and, if something is not working well, try something else.
Please discuss the different kinds of pain relief available with your midwife, doctor or the anaesthetist. It will also be discussed in antenatal classes.
TENS (or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) works by attaching four pads to your back through which continuous electrical impulses are sent. This blocks pain signals to your brain and also stimulates your body to produce endorphins.
TENS is entirely safe as the pads are attached by wires to a small battery-operated control box which hooks on to your clothes.
Facts about TENS:
- There is no evidence of risk to mother or baby.
- TENS is most useful in early labour and lets you move around freely.
- TENS is less effective during active labour.
- You can control the rate and strength of the electrical impulses.
- TENS can be used in combination with other methods of pain relief (but not in water)
We do not provide TENS machines in the Hospital but you can hire or purchase them from Chemists, some supermarkets or online
You can find out more about TENS below:
TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) (nhs.uk) - Information from the NHS website about Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) which is a method of pain relief involving the use of a mild electrical current.
Hydrotherapy is the name given to the use of water in the treatment of different conditions. It is used to give pain relief for a variety of ailments including arthritis and rheumatism—but is also often used during labour.
Facts about Hydrotherapy:
- In early labour at home, a warm bath or shower can be very relaxing and support mobility.
- We have birthing pools available in Queen's Birth Centre or Labour Ward for women who wish to continue their labour and/or give birth in water—the water is kept at a comfortable temperature just below 37.5°C. If you are planning to give birth at home you may wish to hire your own birth pool for labour and delivery.
*Please note: Some women have risk factors which make labour and delivery in water inadvisable. Please discuss any concerns you may have with your midwife or obstetrician who will be able to advise you if you are suitable for delivery in water.
Paracetamol belongs to group of medicines known as 'analgesics' or 'painkillers'. It is used to relieve mild to moderate pain and is also helpful in lowering a raised temperature or fever.
Paracetamol can safely be used in early labour and during postnatal care. It is a common painkiller and available from all pharmacies, in tablets, capsules and liquid form, without the need for a prescription.
Further information can be found on our NHS website below:
Paracetamol for adults - Information about paracetamol for adults.
Entonox is often referred to as 'gas and air’ which provides pain relief when inhaled and is often used by women to ease their labour. It's a combination of nitrous oxide gas and oxygen, which is breathed in through a mouthpiece during contractions when in established labour to relieve pai
Facts about Entonox:
There is no evidence of risk to mother or baby.
- Can be used in combination with any other method of pain relief.
- Effects are rapid and wear off quickly.
- You control how much you want to use and when.
- It can be used as a pain relief method for home births.
- It can make some women feel light-headed and sick.
- Prolonged use can make you tired and thirsty, so you need to drink plenty of fluids.
Pethidine is a pain-relieving drug that is administered by injection into the thigh or buttock. It takes about 20 minutes to work and the effects last for 2 to 4 hours.
Facts about Pethidine:
- Pethidine is recommended in cases where mothers are very tired or anxious, as it can make you feel sleepy and relaxed.
- They can make some women feel nauseous and a further drug is then given to combat sickness and vomiting.
- You cannot use a deep bath or birthing pool after taking pethidine until the effects have worn off.
- Pethidine crosses the placental barrier in labour, meaning it can remain in the baby's system for up to 72 hours. This is not dangerous but may interfere with the first feed if given to the mother close to the birth.
An epidural is a type of local anaesthetic which numbs the nerves that carry the pain impulses from the birth canal to the brain. For seven out of eight women receiving one, an epidural gives complete pain relief. It can be especially helpful for women who are having a particularly long or painful labour, or who are becoming very distressed.
During the procedure you will have an intravenous drip put into your arm, followed by a small plastic tube threaded through a needle into your back. Once the tube is in place, the needle is removed and you can move around. You can trigger a pump to deliver a top up if the pain level increases and a midwife will monitor your baby's heartbeat and your blood pressure.
- It does not make you feel drowsy or sick and you may still have some feeling in your legs.
- It can be topped up to give complete pain relief.
- Not everyone can have an epidural, you should discuss this with your anaesthetist.
- You may feel shivery for a time, but this stops quite quickly.
- There is a 1 in 100 chance of experiencing a severe headache, but this can be treated.
- It may cause a sudden drop in your blood pressure and your baby's heart rate but extra fluids given through your drip will correct this.
- You may need to have the epidural adjusted or re-sited if you still experience contractions.
- You may be unable to pass urine and then will need a catheter for a minimum of 6 hours following the birth of your baby.
- Serious epidural related problems are extremely rare and areas of numbness, pins and needles, or weakness are usually a result of the childbirth itself, not the epidural.
If there are any concerns about your suitability for an epidural or spinal anaesthesia, then you may be asked to attend an appointment with an anaesthetist whilst you are pregnant so your risks can be thoroughly assessed.
Further information can be found below:
Epidural - Information from the NHS about epidurals.
Pain relief in labour - Information from the NHS about pain relief in labour
Labour Pains - International translations. Reliable information from doctors, midwives and mothers on pain relief and anaesthesia choices for your baby's birth.