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July 27, 2016

It’s normal to worry about how you will cope with the pain of labour – and as women of more than one child will tell you, no two labours are the same, so you won’t know until you’re there how things will go.

Before the birth, it makes sense to consider the pros and cons of various forms of pain relief, and make a basic plan. However, go into the birth with an open mind –  you may need to reconsider your decisions as your labour progresses.


Often referred to as ‘gas’, this is a mixture of 50 percent nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and 50 percent oxygen. The gas is breathed in via a mouthpiece at the beginning of a contraction and out during its peak. The gas doesn’t affect the baby and leaves your system quickly. Some women find it takes the edge off their contractions while still leaving them feeling in control. Others don’t like the taste or “drunk” feeling it gives them.


Injected into the bottom for slow effect or (in smaller doses) into a vein for quicker short-acting relief, Pethidine can come as a great relief to a mother who is tiring from an intense labour. It does cross the placenta and, if given too close to delivery, the baby may be born sleepy. This is rare, however, and an antidote is available which quickly reverses the action of the drug. Pethidine is always given with an anti-nausea drug.


An injection of local anaesthetic into your back – and the only option that takes the pain away completely. It’s usually given to women who have endured a long, exhausting labour that is not progressing well. The anaesthetic does not cross the placenta but it can immobilise you so you cannot feel enough to push your baby out.

Drug-free pain relief

  • A Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) machine is a portable device which generates a gentle buzzing sensation to stimulate the nerves of the back, via four electrodes.
  • Heatapplied using wheat bags will ease the pain of contractions.
  • Water:The caressing feel of water in a birthing pool or bath is soothing for some women. A shower – with the spray directed onto the lower back, can also give relief.

Acupuncture and acupressure

An acupuncturist can administer needles to selected points in the lower back, wrists, legs, feet, scalp and ears as labour begins but it is as important to have sessions in the weeks before the birth. Needle-free acupressure is something your support person can learn to do. 

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