Pain Relief Options for Labour

By Dr David Shepherd
Consultant Anaesthetist,
Jessop Hospital for Women, Sheffield, UK

This page will give you information about pain that you may experience during labour and childbirth and the various methods on offer to help reduce it.

For most women childbirth happens twice in their life. For many of you reading this it will be your first baby. We hope the information we present here will act as an introduction so that you are better prepared to obtain further help and advice from the health professionals looking after you. We hope that with a better understanding and appropriate therapy, the birth of your baby will be a comfortable and rewarding experience.


What Causes Labour Pain?

Labour begins when your uterus (womb) begins to contract. In the days before labour starts, you may experience tightening of the uterus which causes discomfort rather than pain.

Labour is said to start when you get regular contractions. Contractions increase in frequency and intensity throughout labour and can become painful in a similar way as you may experience pain in other muscles in your body when you do vigorous exercise.

At the same time, the opening into the uterus (the cervix) is stretching to eventually allow your baby to pass through into your birth canal.

When the opening to the cervix is fully open (dilated), you begin what is known as the second stage of labour, when your baby is born. The baby passes through your birth canal and is born by a combination of the continuing contractions of your uterus and your conscious effort to push your baby out by using the muscles of your lower abdomen.

During your pregnancy, changes happen in your body to prepare for these events. The ligaments of your pelvis loosen to permit your pelvis to relax and allow your baby to come out. Other changes occur to adapt your body to accommodate childbirth. Unfortunately, despite these changes, it is likely you will feel pain. First labours are probably more painful than subsequent ones.

Sometimes when it is necessary to start off labour, or stimulate it if progress is slow, your labour may be more painful.

Every person\'s appreciation of pain is different, and what one person can accept another may find extremely painful.

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