Doctors and nurses often ask their patients to rate their pain on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being little pain and 10 being the worst pain ever – like labor pain. While this may not be reassuring to an expectant mom, there are many pain relief options during labour that can make the process significantly more comfortable for the mom-to-be. When you’re creating your birth plan for labor, it’s important to consider the possible options for pain relief.
Epidural and spinal analgesia can both make you numb from the ribcage and/or waist down, but they aren’t the same thing. Epidural anesthesia involves inserting a thin, flexible catheter through the ligaments between your spinal bones in the spinal canal. A common misconception is that the epidural is placed in your spinal cord, but this isn’t true. Instead, the catheter is placed in the area near where your spinal nerves are. When medication is delivered to the area, it can numb the nerves so you won’t feel pain. An epidural catheter can stay in for several days if your labor is prolonged.
Pros: Epidural anesthesia provides pain relief, most often for women who deliver their babies vaginally. It is possible to “dose up” an epidural should a mother require an emergent C-section if labor doesn’t progress. A mother is much more comfortable throughout the delivery experience than through natural childbirth.
Cons: Epidural anesthesia can result in side effects although the risks are relatively small, including severe headaches and infection risk. Sometimes an epidural doesn’t work. Epidural anesthesia may also prolong the second stage of labor where a mother is “pushing” her baby through the birth canal, according to Live Science.
Spinal anesthesia is similar to administering a “shot” of pain medicine into a deeper area in the spinal canal than an epidural does. The pain relief is often faster and sometimes more potent than an epidural. However, spinal anesthesia is a one-time dose. This method is most often used for C-section deliveries. However, it’s possible to offer a combined epidural that delivers immediate relief and the long-lasting effects of epidural anesthesia.
Pros: Spinal anesthesia can effectively reduce pain for mothers delivering vaginally or surgically. The effects usually last about two hours.
Cons: Like an epidural, a spinal anesthesia technique may not work. Numbing the nerves quickly also can cause a woman to experience very low blood pressure. She may need medications to treat this.
General anesthesia is similar to surgical anesthesia. It involves putting an expectant mom completely asleep during the delivery process. This may be indicated for emergency procedures or procedures where complications could occur.
Pros: Advantageous for mothers who can’t receive epidural or spinal analgesia, yet still require a C-section.
Cons: Typically used only in emergencies. Medications given could cross the placenta. Also, a new mother doesn’t get to see or hold her baby immediately after it’s born because she is waking up from anesthesia.
Doctors must be careful about what medications you’re given during labor because the medicines can cross the placenta and affect your baby’s heart rate and breathing. However, there are some medications you can receive during labor to dull or diminish your pain experience. It’s unlikely they will remove all pain.
Pros: You don’t have to have an invasive procedure to receive anesthesia. This reduces risks for potential side effects. In some cases, spinal or epidural anesthesia can also prolong the birthing process, but not usually to a great extent.
Cons: The small doses of medications aren’t usually enough for total pain control. They also have their own side effects, such as nausea, itching, dizziness, and drowsiness. Medications can also potentially affect your baby.
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