Labor of Love: Managing the Pain

Upland Hills Health
Dr. Rachel Hartline is a family practice physician at Upland Hills Health clinics in Spring Green, Highland and Montfort. She has delivered more than 100 babies at Upland Hills Health since she joined us in 2015. You can learn more about Dr. Hartline here:  https://www.uplandhillshealth.org/our-providers/dr-rachel-hartline/

Labor is one of the most anticipated parts of pregnancy! The process that brings your baby in to the world can be quite intense, and it’s normal to feel a little bit nervous wondering what that process is going to be like. It can help to plan ahead and talk with your delivery provider about the different options that are available to help you manage the pain that comes with labor. Here is an overview of some of the options available to you at Upland Hills:

Movement: It sounds simple, but so many laboring moms get improvement in their pain by moving. . . Sometimes that means walking around, sometimes it means changing positions in bed, sometimes it means using an inflatable rubber ball to help you find just the right way to sit or lay to improve the pain. Changing positions can help your baby to fit down into your pelvis in just the right way to make a smooth entrance in to the world. We are able to monitor baby’s heart rate continuously through a portable monitor so you can move the way that feels right to you. Check out the YouTube videos of mamas dancing in labor!

Hydrotherapy: Another great, low-risk way to manage labor pain is to use the power of water. Especially in early labor, curling up in a warm bathtub or letting the warm spray of a shower wash over you can relax your body and help you cope with contractions.

Massage: Sometimes having a partner or a support person massage aching muscles can help distract you from the labor pains and relax your body. Bonus points if your massage partner uses relaxing smells (aromatherapy) or temperature changes (thermotherapy) to help you manage labor!

Continuous Labor Support: The studies are in, and there is good evidence that supporting women in labor makes for better labors! Of course delivering at Upland Hills means that there will be hospital staff with you during labor, delivery and the postpartum period– —and our OB nurses have additional training in continuous labor support– but it’s also a good idea to designate someone as your dedicated support person who is there for you consistently throughout the labor process. Some moms choose their spouse or partner for this role, some choose their sister, their mother, or a trusted friend. Some choose to work with a doula– a person usually without formal obstetric training who is paid or volunteers as a support person for women in labor. Whatever their role in your life otherwise, designating a continuous labor support person whom you trust can help you to feel more at ease during ups and downs of labor and birth.

IV medication: Some women choose to use medication given intravenously to help with the pain of labor. The pain medication usually given is a fast-acting narcotic medication, similar to morphine. Generally, this medication takes the edge off of pain and lets a laboring mom get a bit of rest but will not slow down labor or make the pain of contractions go completely away. We avoid giving this medication if baby is very close to delivering because it can sometimes cause babies to be extra sleepy or not breathe well on their own if a dose was given just before baby delivered.

Nitrous Oxide: That’s right– the laughing gas the dentist uses is now making an appearance on the labor and delivery unit! Nitrous oxide is an odorless, colorless gas that you may choose to inhale during labor to help deal with the pain and stress of labor. It works primarily by helping you feel separated from the pain and relaxing and relieving anxiety. In our birth suites, nitrous oxide is administered along with oxygen through a mask you hold up to your face and inhale from as needed. A nurse instructs you on how to safely use this and monitors you and your baby during use. It works quickly and when you decide you no longer want any, clears quickly from your system.

Epidural: Epidural anesthesia uses numbing and pain medications delivered by a small tube (like an IV) to the nerves that provide sensation to the lower part of your body. An anesthesia provider will carefully thread the tube into the space between the bones of your back where the nerves live, and then deliver the medicine to numb the nerves. This takes away the pain of contractions and allows for more complete rest, but also makes it so that while the epidural is active you are unable to walk around, change position easily, or pee on your own. For this reason, it can be helpful to wait on getting an epidural until baby is in a good position and labor is progressing well. Generally an epidural helps with the pain of contractions, but moms still experience the intense pressure-like feeling that happens with pushing and delivery. Because of the numbness that comes from an epidural, moms who choose an epidural on average push for longer than moms who choose to labor without an epidural– but c-sections are not more common in moms who choose epidurals.

There is no one right answer about the best way to manage pain during labor– the right answer is what is right for you and your baby, and may include some or many of the above options. Our nurses at Upland Hills are warm, caring, and incredibly skilled at helping you feel supported and safe while navigating your labor process. They work closely with your doctor to empower you and your baby to have a safe, healthy delivery. This article is a good start to thinking about pain management options, but it’s always important to talk with your healthcare providers about your specific health conditions and which choices might be appropriate for you.