Different options for pain relief during labour

We look at some of the different options for pain relief in labour. 

All women cope differently with childbirth pain. Before you go into labour, you will discuss pain relief options available to you with your midwife or doctor, this discussion should include the risks and benefits of each pain relieving options.

You may have a pain relief strategy in mind before your labour, however this may change when you are actually in labour so it is important to have an understanding of all the options so that you are empowered to make decisions as needed. 

Here are some different types of labour pain relief: 

Natural pain relief

There are many relaxation techniques that you can try with or without the use of medications.These include:  
  • Active birth, is a strategy which encourages movement throughout the labour process as well as the use of hot and cold heat packs and massage. Active birth also encourages mindfulness and meditation.  
  • Labour and birthing in water can provide comfort and relief.  There is the option to use a shower, a warm bath or a birthing pool. 

Assisted Non-Medical Pain Relief

TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), is a small machine with four electrodes which are placed on the lower back.  It generates electrical impulses which are throught to assist in blocking pain signals. There is limited evidence for the effectiveness of TENS machines, but they do not cause harm and some women find them helpful. 

Medical pain relief

There are pain relieving medications which can be used during labour and it is possible to use medications in combination with other medications and with natural and assisted non-medicated pain relief techniques as needed. 


A mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen, which is inhaled as you feel a contraction start, through a mouthpiece or a mask placed over your nose. It's a mild anesthetic designed to make you less aware of your childbirth pain. Some women find that the gas makes them feel nauseous and light-headed. 


A painkiller which is injected into a muscle in your leg or arm and helps in reducing the severity of pain. Pethedine has a short-term effect, however it can affect the babies breathing, so it is generally not administered within two hours prior to birth Some woman have reported feeling nauseous, dizzy or very sleepy. 


An epidural is an injection of anaesthesia into your lower back, just above your waist. An epidural blocks pain from your waist down.  A local anesthetic is given and then a small plastic tube is inserted into the lower back so that pain medication can be continually supplied throughout labour, this tube is removed shortly after birth.  Once the Epidural is inserted you are not able to walk around because your lower half becomes numb, therefore a thin tube called a urinary catheter is inserted to drain urine until the Epidural is removed.  There are some risks associated with a catheter, and it is best to discuss these with your doctor or midwife. For more in depth information on epidurals, read our guide here.

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