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Pain relief during labour

5-minute read

What types of pain relief can I get when having a baby?

There are many natural and medical ways to help manage your pain when you are in labour. Some people feel that it is important to them that their birth is as natural as possible, and some people will consider pain relief.

Non-medical pain relief includes methods such as relaxation, active birth, massage, heat or water. Other non-medical pain relief includes devices or techniques such as TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), water injections, and alternative and complementary therapies such as acupuncture or acupressure. Non-medical pain relief is used during labour either by itself or with medical methods.

Medical pain relief involves medicines to help you manage your pain during labour and delivery. One of the most common types of medical pain relief is nitrous oxide gas (also known as ‘laughing gas’), which you breathe in using a mouthpiece or mask. Other medicines include injections of pethidine or morphine, and epidural pain relief. An epidural is a procedure where a small amount of an anaesthetic is injected into your back, reducing your feeling of pain from your waist and down. A tube is then left in your back so more anaesthetic can be added over time.

What should I consider when choosing pain relief?

Pain-relief preferences during labour and delivery are personal. They may be influenced by your background, culture, tradition and religion. However, there are some practical things to think about when forming your birth plan. It is important to make sure that your pain-relief choices are available where you plan to give birth. For example, a water birth requires a birthing pool, which is not available at every birthing unit. If you are planning a home birth, you will not be able to have an epidural, which requires highly specialised doctors. You may also want to think about the cost of different types of pain relief and whether current COVID-19 restrictions make some options less feasible.

Some medical conditions can affect which pain-relief methods you use. For example, if you have HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C, you should not use a pool for labour or birth. If you are not sure if you have a medical condition that may affect your pain-relief choice, ask your doctor or midwife. If your baby is born well before your due date, or if you are past your due date, this may also affect the types of pain relief that you can use.

What pain-relief preferences should I have in my birth plan?

Your birth plan should include your pain-relief preferences during labour. Make sure your plan has enough detail, so that your care team and anyone coming with you into the labour ward can understand your wishes and know how to support you.

For example, if you would like to use massage, consider if you would like your birth support partner to learn how to massage you or if would you prefer a masseuse.

If you are not sure about what pain-relief options are right for you, you can learn more in an in-person or virtual antenatal class.

What if I change my mind during labour?

It is not unusual for mothers to change their birth plan during labour. This might be because their labour experience is different from what they were expecting, or because of the mother’s or baby’s medical needs. If you change your mind during labour, you should tell your support people your wishes so that they can help you.

It is not always possible to change from one type of pain relief to another during labour. For example, you cannot give birth in water for at least 4 hours after you have had some types of medicines for pain relief.

If you think you might want to change your birth plan during labour, it may be helpful to plan as broadly as possible. This could be by learning what pain relief is or isn’t available at the place at which you plan to give birth, or by learning about pain-relief techniques and how to use them, even if they are not a part of your ideal birth plan. Planning broadly can also save you the disappointment of not being able to stick to your birth plan if the birth doesn’t go as expected.

Who can I talk to for advice and support?

You may find it helpful to speak to friends and family about their experience with pain relief during labour. Your doctor or midwife will be able to give you advice and support and will be happy to discuss your birth plan with you.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

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Last reviewed: December 2021


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Need more information?

Pain Relief in Labour and Childbirth

Read more on RANZCOG - Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists website

Pain relief during labour | Raising Children Network

Pain relief in labour includes natural options like massage, as well as medical options. It’s best to discuss options with a midwife or doctor in pregnancy.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Non-medical pain relief during labour

There are many ways to relieve labour pain without medicines. Each method has advantages and disadvantages. Learn about the different options to help choose one or more that suit you.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Giving birth - second stage of labour

The second stage of labour is when you give birth to your baby.

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ANZCA | Pain relief and having a baby

Labour is among the most painful human experiences.

Read more on ANZCA – Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists website

Childbirth - pain relief options - Better Health Channel

Understanding your pain relief options can help you cope better with the pain of childbirth.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Gas (Entonox)

Gas or Entonox is nitrous oxide mixed with oxygen. Gas can help with pain relief, and it is safe for you and your baby.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

TENS (Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation)

TENS machine delivers a small electrical current to the body through electrodes attached to the skin. TENS, is a form of pain relief without medicine.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Epidurals for childbirth

An epidural can be used to relieve pain during child birth and is very safe. Your anaesthetist will discuss pain relief options with you as part of your antenatal care.

Read more on WA Health website

Caesarean Section - Birth Trauma

Being abdominal surgery, pain in the early months is very common after a caesarean section (C-section) and needs to be managed with rest, pain relief, and

Read more on Australasian Birth Trauma Association website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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