Giving birth is one of the most exciting and personal events in your life. Whether you choose to use natural comfort measures or pain relief medications during childbirth, Sutter’s experienced labor and delivery teams offer caring support and guidance.
Natural Pain-Relief Options
If you’d like to give birth without pain medications, our experienced labor and delivery nurses will be there to support you. They can coach you and your partner through a variety of pain-relieving positions and breathing techniques. If your baby needs to be monitored during labor, many of our facilities offer telemetry (wireless) fetal monitor units that allow you to stay upright and keep moving. Our birth facilities also offer other comfort options, including:
Taking a shower during labor can help you relax and decrease pain. Many of our labor rooms are equipped with showers that have detachable hand showers. This option allows your birth partner to direct the shower spray for your greatest comfort.
Birthing balls also can be an essential tool for labor and pain relief. Sitting on the ball encourages a natural swaying or rotating motion of the pelvis, promoting fetal descent. Gently moving on the ball helps with the pain of contractions.
Soaking in warm water in a labor tub (available at most of our birth centers) promotes blood flow throughout your body, maximizing the effectiveness of your natural labor hormones. Warm water can relieve pain by making the uterus buoyant (floating) which eases some of the pressure of labor.
Coping with Labor
Since the primary task of a woman in labor is coping, assessing coping in labor is more appropriate than using a pain scale. At Sutter Health, we will utilize a labor coping scale rather than ask you for a pain score. The Labor Coping Scale is a useful tool that guides us in knowing how to help you through your labor.
As labor progresses and contractions become stronger, some women may find that comfort measures no longer provide enough relief. Pain medications may not totally eliminate labor pain, but can help ease it so you can rest and cope with the discomfort.
Your doctor or midwife and anesthesiologist will help you choose which medication will best meet your needs, based on your labor stage and health situation. Let your care team know how important it is to you to be able to feel pushing sensations.
Here are the main types of pain relief medications commonly used during childbirth. Remember: all medications carry some risks, so it’s best to discuss the pros and cons with your care team before going into labor.
A rapid acting narcotic delivered either through an IV or intramuscularly can “take the edge off” and deliver short-term pain relief during early or active labor. Options frequently include morphine, fentanyl, nubain or stadol.
Epidural anesthesia can provide significant pain relief during childbirth. Delivered through a catheter in the epidural space of the spine, epidural anesthesia blocks pain in the torso and upper legs. With an epidural, your blood pressure will be monitored continuously, you won’t be able to walk and you may have diminished sensations in your legs. You may also need to have a catheter to help empty your bladder. The baby’s heart rate will be monitored continuously.
Like an epidural, spinal anesthesia provides significant pain relief. Injected directly into the spinal fluid, spinal anesthesia delivers immediate results. It’s most commonly used for a C-section, but may occasionally be used during active labor.
To create numbness in the vagina immediately before or after delivery, local anesthetics such as Novocaine may be injected into the skin.
Nitrous oxide is a safe, non-invasive option for pain and anxiety relief during labor which is self-administered via face mask.
Doctors at Palo Alto Medical Foundation
Laura N. Silverstein, M.D., FACOG
Obstetrics and Gynecology
Susan Maayah, M.D.
Obstetrics and Gynecology
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