"There’s a secret in our culture, and it’s not that birth is painful. It’s that women are strong."
Laura Stavoe Harm
Nearly all mothers experience some level of pain in the process of childbirth, and mothers and their partners are understandably concerned about it. We offer a number of safe and effective pain relief techniques:
Touch techniques such as acupressure help relieve the pain of labor by countering the pressure placed on your body during contractions. It’s a little like the reaction to press your thumb if you hit it with a hammer. We just innately know where to apply pressure that will help. You (or your partner) may need a little coaching to learn how to effectively use pressure and other touch techniques in labor, but once you get the hang of it you can significantly reduce the pain you feel.
Heat and Cold
Cold and heat relieve pain by interfering with the neural pathways that conduct pain signals to your brain. You have already used this method of pain relief if you have ever applied an ice pack when you had a backache or a heating pad when you had menstrual cramps.
Position Choice & Change
While in labor you will naturally adopt positions that relieve your own pain. Some women prefer to move by swaying or rocking during contractions, some like to stand, some prefer to be on hands and knees. You have known all your life how to adjust your body to lessen pain you may be experiencing no matter what the cause. If you broke an arm you would naturally hold it in a position that gave you most relief, wouldn’t you? Labor is no different except that you need to be in an environment (such as home or a birth center) where your movement and positions are not restricted so you can take full advantage of this natural method to alleviate discomforts.
Self-hypnosis is an extremely effective technique for re-framing the experience of contractions in labor. You can learn to use hypnosis in labor (and in other settings, such as the dentist) by taking HypnoBabies or HypnoBirthing classes. Classes are offered by a number of certified childbirth educators. Visit Childbirth University for our current list of classes and recommended educators.
Water Labor/Water Birth
Water has been dubbed the “midwife’s epidural.” That may be a little overstated because it doesn’t completely remove the sensations of labor, but it is a very effective and enjoyable way to take the edge off contractions. We have specially designed tubs available in our birth centers and portable tubs available for home births. For more information, click here.
A doula is a trained person who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth. She is a type of labor coach. She might provide massage or counter-pressure, suggest positions that would be more comfortable, and help keep you encouraged and focused. Studies have shown that when doulas attend birth, labors are shorter with fewer complications, there is less likelihood of needing forceps, vacuum, or cesarean delivery, mothers are less likely to need an epidural or other type of anesthesia/analgesia during labor, and mothers are more satisfied with their birth experience. We provide doula service at no extra charge.
Nitrous oxide in a 50% mixture with oxygen is a very safe and effective method of pain relief for labor used in many other countries such as Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands. Nitrous oxide is commonly used in U.S. dental offices (although the concentrations of gas and method of administration are different), but there are only a few hospitals and birth centers in the United States currently offering it for use during labor. We are so proud to be one of them!
Most of our mothers manage labor very well without the use of nitrous oxide, but it’s great to know it’s there if you need it. The type of pain relief achieved with nitrous oxide is between the total numbness of an epidural and the milder relief offered by the non-pharmacological techniques described above. It is about the same as narcotic pain relief available in the hospital, but without the risks or side effects. Those who do still feel pain report that they feel “distanced” from it, and that they don’t care about the pain. In addition, nitrous oxide is an “anxiolytic” which means it helps decrease anxiety during labor. This makes it especially appropriate for mothers who have a fear of needles or are tense for any other reason (and we can use it when you aren’t in labor for appropriate procedures like blood draws or vaginal exams, if necessary). Because the use of nitrous oxide (also known as “laughing gas” or "gas and air") in labor is so little known to most consumers, we encourage you to visit our nitrous oxide page for videos, testimonials, and detailed information on this method of pain relief.
Cochrane Library: Pain Relief for Women in Labor
Cochrane Systematic Reviews bring together research on the effects of health care and are considered the gold standard for determining the relative effectiveness of different interventions in maternity care. This link will download a file (but it is safe, don’t worry) with the Cochrane Library’s information on various types of pain relief in labor (both drug and non-drug). The Abstract and Plain Language Summary will probably be most helpful, but if you really want the scientific nitty-gritty, the rest of the 160 pages of this report should give you all you ever wanted to know. In this review, nitrous oxide in labor is referred to as “inhaled analgesia.”