Birthing made pain-free

A guide on the latest in pain-management during labour

Pregnancy, labour and post-delivery care are some of the most memorable months in a woman’s life. At the same time, women tend to get anxious about pregnancy, labour pains, coping with the newborn and breastfeeding among other concerns. After overcoming with months of nausea, heartburns, emotional upheavals and sleepless nights, giving birth is what keeps women on the edge. 

But thanks to the latest technological advancements, labour can be managed better with the least amount of stress. So let us look at some of the latest pain-management techniques:

TENS

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation or TENS involves the use of electrical currents to stimulate the body to increase production of endorphins. The currents, which are passed through four flat pads on the back, interrupt the pain signal pathway sent through your spinal cord to your brain. TENS is most effective when used from early labour as it takes 30 to 40 minutes to build up the endorphins levels and the electrical stimulation can be increased as the contractions get stronger.

Pros

  • You can keep moving and it won’t directly interfere with your labour.
  • You can use it for as long as you want.
  • There are no lasting side-effects.

Cons

  • It may only help in the early stages of labour.
  • It may have to be removed if your baby’s heart has to be monitored electronically.
  • The clinical evidence in support of TENS is lacking though many women say that it helped them.

Laughing gas

Nitrous oxide (often called “laughing gas”), in combination with oxygen, has been in use for two centuries as a simple anaesthetic agent. It has been used by women in labour since the 1930s. Although it can’t get rid of all the pain, it can help reduce it and make it more bearable. Many women like it because it’s easy to use and they control it themselves. You breathe in the gas and air through a mask or mouthpiece, which you hold yourself. The gas takes about 15 to 20 seconds to work, so you breathe it in just as a contraction begins. It works best if you take slow, deep breaths.

Pros

  • You can control it and the effects wear off quickly once you stop inhaling.
  • It’s fast-acting.
  • You can use it in a birthing pool.

Cons

  • It may make you feel sick and light-headed initially.
  • It can dry your mouth out if you use it for long periods.
  • Keeping hold of the mask or mouthpiece may stop you from moving around and getting into a comfortable position.
  • It can take a few contractions to get the hang of it so that it’s effective at the peak of contractions.

Acupuncture & hypnotherapy

Acupuncture, an important and ancient component of traditional Chinese medicine, is gradually being integrated with conventional medicine in the West. Acupuncture involves putting needles into points on your body to help reduce the pain. Some studies suggest that women who used these therapies feel in control of their labour and use less medication to reduce pain.

Hypnosis has been used to reduce childbirth pain since the early 19th century. Today, the interest in hypnosis training to shorten labour and reduce the pain is increasing among holistic practitioners and expectant parents. Hypnosis can distract you from the pain. You can be trained to do the hypnosis yourself (self-hypnosis), which you will need to practise while you are pregnant.

Water births

Water can be used for pain relief during labour. Being in water can help you relax and make the contractions seem less painful. The temperature of the water should not be above 37.5°C. Remember to drink plenty of water as you will be using up lots of energy and will be sweating. Empty your bladder frequently during labour.

There may be rare but clinically significant risks for the baby born under water. This includes respiratory problems, cord rupture with haemorrhage and water-borne infections. So discuss with your doctor if the hospital offers water birth.

Birthing can be a terrifying experience if you are not surrounded by a supportive partner, family and friends. Gain adequate knowledge about pregnancy and make sure that you consult the same team of doctors throughout your pregnancy.

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