Labor Pain: What EVERY Pregnant Woman Needs to Know

by Jenny Everett King, childbirth educator and prenatal yoga teacher

Because we promote natural childbirth at Healing Hands, some people assume that our practitioners are opposed to epidurals and other pharmacological methods of labor pain relief. This is absolutely not the case. Rather, what concerns us is the idea so prevalent in today’s culture that women need medication for labor pain. We encourage natural pain relief methods because we want every pregnant woman who walks through our doors to know that non-medicated birth is a viable option.

Some mothers who plan to use medication for pain relief do little else to prepare for the discomforts of labor. But women who plan on epidurals for labor and delivery still need other coping techniques. If you go into labor at home, you will still need to cope with contractions during the car ride to the hospital as well as the admission process. Even at the hospital, the window of opportunity for receiving an epidural can be relatively small – typically between four and eight centimeters cervical dilation. Request it before 4cm, and you’ll have to wait until your labor has progressed. Request it at 8cm or more – for most women, this is the most intense part of labor – and you’ll likely be denied because the “pushing” stage is imminent. It’s also a good idea to let an epidural wear off somewhat before pushing begins, so that you can feel your contractions enough to work with them. That means that you’ll probably have some discomfort during the second stage of labor. Additionally, epidurals do not always provide total pain relief. Planning in a scheduled cesarean? In the absence of medical need, it’s unlikely that one will be performed before 39 weeks gestation. But full-term labor can happen as early as 37 or 38 weeks. Every pregnant woman, therefore, needs to prepare herself to deal with labor contractions.

Our childbirth workshops teach several ways to cope with and minimize labor pain, including relaxation techniques, the best positions for labor, massage, counter-pressure, acupressure, and vocalization. We also discuss epidurals at length, so that parents who are interested in them can make an informed decision and know when pain medication may be the right choice.

The other services we offer at Healing Hands, particularly pregnancy chiropractic, acupuncture, and prenatal yoga, are extremely useful for minimizing labor pain, because receiving these treatments during pregnancy can help your baby get into the best position for birth. The worst discomforts women feel during labor are usually due to the baby being in a less-than-optimal position. (The horror stories told to vulnerable pregnant women about “back labor” are really stories of a baby facing backwards for birth!)

Our practitioners welcome your questions about handling labor pain and optimal fetal positioning. For more on coping techniques in labor, please join us for “Love Your Birth” on January 26th or April 20th.