There are many options for managing pain during labor, and none of them is better than the other. Each option is a tool that can be utilized and beneficial for different birthing individuals. You will know which tools are best for you and your desired birthing experience. Sometimes we think we will never use a particular tool, and it ends up being exactly what we need in the moment. Meeting your options for pain relief without judgment is a great way to experience childbirth. You never know which tool will most empower you on your journey.
Epidural: The epidural is the most used tool in the United States for pain relief during childbirth. When done perfectly, epidurals provide anesthesia from your belly button to your upper legs. Medication is injected into a space within the vertebral column called the Epidural Space, which is filled with fluid. Epidurals come with risks and benefits that should be considered before use, but they can be excellent tools for managing the pains of childbirth. Unfortunately, epidurals can only be given in the hospital, and for someone having a community birth to experience an epidural, they would need to transfer.
Nitrous Oxide (laughing gas): Nitrous Oxide has been one of the more recent tools used for pain relief during childbirth. This option is sometimes offered at birth centers and in some hospitals. Nitrous Oxide is self-administered, which gives birthing individuals more empowerment and control over their usage. Laughing gas works to slow the nervous system, which can create a sense of well-being and has little effect on the baby. Another benefit of laughing gas is that it can be discontinued anytime and does not inhibit your ability to move during labor.
Sterile Water Injections: Sterile water injections are most commonly used in community births and are a fast and inexpensive way to help relieve pain during childbirth. Sterile water is injected into the layer just below your skin, and liquid is injected into that space. These injections work quickly and can last for as long as two hours. One downside to this technique would be the discomfort of the procedure itself. However, evidence supports its use, especially when birthing individuals are experiencing back labor.
Counter Pressure: As simple as it sounds, counter pressure on the back, hip squeezes, and counter pressure on the knees are some of the favorite tools for community birth clients and clients who want to go without pain medications in the hospital. For some, the counter pressure takes away the peak of the sensations of childbirth, and for others, it takes away the pain almost entirely. Counterpressure can be done anywhere and is a great, free option for those wanting to go medication free.
Movement in Labor: Believe it or not, movement can be such an incredible tool for laboring individuals. Intuitively listening to where one's body wants to go and how it wants to move is a great way to help eliminate pain through contractions. Not only this, but it helps babies move into better positions as they make their way through the birth canal.
Hydrotherapy: In community birth, hydrotherapy is often called "nature's epidural." Although it doesn't take away most of the sensations as an epidural does, it can be highly relieving when utilized. Whether a birthing person is in a birth tub or taking a shower, this is a great tool that many find extremely helpful during their birthing time.
Comb: Yes, you heard me right, a comb. Holding a comb in one's hand hits specific pressure points that help relieve labor pains. This tool can also be a focal point or distraction while moving through contractions. The best part, it is inexpensive and small!
Heat/Cool: Using a heating pad can be pleasant during labor, especially if you feel back labor pain. At the same time, utilizing cool rags or an ice pack can have similar effects. These tools are inexpensive and small and can be used in any birthing space.
Tens Unit: A tens unit can help with labor pains when two electrodes are stuck to your skin and connected to a machine that delivers small pulses of electrical current to the body. These small pulses of electrical current can relieve mild labor pains.
Massage: Having your partner(s) or doula offer massage during labor is another excellent tool for pain relief and a great way to bond during the experience. It may not provide complete relief, but it can feel nice.
Hypnosis and Breathwork: Hypnosis programs work to rewire the brain for labor and childbirth. They utilize deep meditation and rewiring your brain for how it perceives pain to help you get through labor. Another tool that can be used is breathwork. Sometimes all it takes to make it through a contraction is staying on top of your breath and allowing it to relax throughout your entire body.
These are just some tools that birthing individuals might use to help them through their labor. Of course, not every tool is suitable for every birthing individual, but maybe some of these tools will be the perfect fit for you.
My favorite tip for pregnancy is to redefine the sensations of birth. When human bodies experience pain, it is a signal that the body gives the brain to tell the brain something is wrong. Interestingly, we call the sensations of labor "pain" when there is usually nothing wrong happening in labor. Each contraction is something right. We use the word "pain" because we do not have another word to describe the intense and sometimes difficult sensations. But, if we can rephrase and recognize that the labor sensations are not pain because nothing is going wrong, then we can better cope with the sensations and let our care providers know if we are experiencing actual pain, which tells us that something is wrong.