Expectant mothers are fortunate to have many options to manage discomfort during labor and delivery. Choosing the right approach is a very personal decision, and the woman’s physician can offer guidance based on the delivery she desires.
The pain management spectrum ranges from a drug-free experience to one that involves more substantial medical support. A natural birth involves no medication and focuses on breathing techniques, massage and coaching from a nurse, doula or birthing partner. Discomfort is not eliminated but the patient learns techniques to work through the pain.
An epidural, the most common anesthetic choice, is administered through the back and numbs the nerves that cause painful sensations in the uterus. The epidural eliminates pain completely, keeps the mother alert, does not slow labor, and is considered very safe. While the epidural is in, the laboring patient cannot walk around, and if the anesthesia is too strong, it can be difficult to push the baby out and additional assistance may be necessary. In rare cases, the epidural can cause a drop in blood pressure, but this is easily treated and precautions are taken to prevent it from happening.
Intravenous pain killers can provide some relief during labor, but may cause sleepiness in mother and baby and decrease awareness of the overall experience. Spinal anesthesia is generally reserved for women with planned cesarean sections. Stronger than an epidural, the mother will feel no pain but remains wide awake to see her baby born. And general anesthesia is used rarely, except in extreme circumstances.
Most importantly, a pregnant woman should keep an open mind; while she may expect to do things naturally, her labor may be more difficult than anticipated and she may want something for the discomfort. Understanding her choices and staying flexible during labor can help a woman truly enjoy the amazing miracle of childbirth.
Dr. Michael Urig is chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center. For more information on this topic, talk with your doctor, or call Urig’s Ahwatukee Foothills office at (480) 759-9191.