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The amount of pain or discomfort a woman has while having a baby varies from person to person and from pregnancy to pregnancy. Only you know how much discomfort you are having. Your nurse, obstetrician, midwife, and anaesthesiologist are available to help discuss pain relief methods that are appropriate for you. The anaesthesiologist is a specially trained doctor who can provide counsel on pain relief during labour.

Here are some pain relief options for you to consider.

Breathing and relaxation techniques

Your labour and delivery nurse or your midwife can instruct you in breathing exercises and other methods, such as massages. These can all help make you more comfortable during labour. A doula may also be available to assist you. Coupled with these more natural techniques, we offer Jacuzzi tubs and large showers for natural water therapy, which some women find very relaxing.

Gas

A mixture of nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and oxygen can be provided for you to breathe. You have to start breathing the gas as soon as you feel a contraction. The gas will make the contraction more comfortable, but it will not take away the pain or harm your baby. You may feel lightheaded.

Medication

Your obstetrician can order narcotic medication to be given intravenously or into your muscle. This medication will provide some pain relief, but it won’t take all the pain away. The medication can make you drowsy and nauseous.

Epidural anaesthesia

All of the previous methods will make you more comfortable, but you will still have some discomfort. Some women will want more pain relief, which can be provided with an epidural anaesthetic, administered by the anaesthesiologist. Epidurals can provide very good pain relief. The anaesthesiologist will speak with you first to determine if it is safe to perform an epidural anaesthetic. In some women, due to certain medical conditions, it may be unsafe to perform this procedure.

Placing an epidural

Local anaesthetic is injected in your skin on your back to numb it and a needle is then inserted through the numb area. A thin plastic tube is then inserted through the needle and the needle is removed. Medication is injected through the plastic tube and this takes away the pain. It usually takes about 20 minutes for the medication to work. The plastic tube allows medication to be given continuously to keep you comfortable as long as you are in labour. It can also be used to provide pain relief for a Caesarean section, should you need it.

Spinal anaesthetic

With a spinal anaesthetic, a small needle is inserted into your back and the sack covering your spinal cord is punctured. A small amount of anaesthetic is injected into the fluid surrounding your spinal cord and the needle is removed. Pain relief is immediate; however, it will only last for one to two hours.

Combined spinal/epidural

With this method, a spinal anaesthetic is performed first and an epidural catheter is placed through the same needle. This provides the immediate pain relief and allows for continued pain relief with the use of the epidural catheter.

Side Effects of Epidural or Spinal Anaesthesia

You blood pressure may decrease. Your nurse will monitor your blood pressure frequently so that any unsafe decrease in blood pressure can be treated. Your legs may become weak and numb. This may prevent you from walking. Your skin may feel itchy.

Complications of Spinal Epidural/Anaesthesia

Your anaesthesiologist is a highly trained physician who will safely perform this procedure; however, despite this, complications can occur. The most common complication is a headache and it happens in 1 out of 100 patients. The headachecan be severe and last for several days. Your anaesthesiologist can provide treatment if you require it. Serious complications, such as seizures, death, or permanent paralysis are rare. The risk of permanent paralysis is about one out of 200,000 patients.