Thinking ahead about your labour and being mentally prepared can help you feel more in control and less worried about the delivery. Antenatal classes are helpful for this and there are many different ones to choose from, from NCT to hypnobirthing.

Reading pregnancy books and trustworthy online information such as the NHS website can help. Talking to people who have been through labour is not always helpful as sometimes if they have had an unusual or stressful experience this can be scary! People aren’t always thoughtful when sharing their experiences. If you are going to ask others then make sure you seek a range of views!

Learn relaxation and breathing techniques before your labour. Again there are many online resources and antenatal classes than can help you with this. Here is the link for a useful youtube tutorial. 

Support during labour from a loved one or trusted friend is very beneficial to coping with discomfort. If they are able to offer gentle massage you may find this soothing. Some people don’t like being touched when they are in pain, so this isn’t for everyone. Keep moving if you can; try kneeling, walking around or rocking. Whatever feels comfortable. Towards the end of labour in the pushing part it will be very difficult to move. One on one support during labour has been proven to improve the chance of a natural birth – this is a testament to the enormous value of our midwifery colleagues on labour ward.

Hydrotherapy – having a bath when you are in very early labour at home, or use of the birth pool once you are in the birth unit can ease pain. If you want to use the pool then you would need to not have any medical complications or risk factors and plan this ahead with your midwife.

TENS machines can be a fantastic pain reliever especially during the early parts of labour. You can order one online, borrow from a friend or hire one, to take into hospital with you. The pads stick onto your back and then you turn on/off and adjust the strength of vibration on the handheld console. They work by distracting your nervous system from detecting the pain as it focuses on the TENS sensation. They are also thought to help release endorphins which make you feel good.

“Gas and air” or Entonox is usually available in hospital based labour wards and is a mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide. It is easy to use by inhaling and can be a great pain reliever. It works best if you take slow deep breaths and takes about 15 seconds to work so it’s best to start breathing it in just as a contraction begins. Entonox can cause some to feel sick or woozy.

Injections such as “pethidine” or “diamorphine” can be an option depending on the setting of your birth. They take about 20 minutes to work and last about 2-4 hours. They do have side effects – more so than gas and air so discuss the pros and cons with your midwife.

An epidural is a local anaesthetic injection into your back, given through a small tube by an anaesthetist. You need to have a drip (cannula) fitted into your arm or hand. They are only available in hospitals with anaesthetist availability.

Epidurals are generally extremely effective pain relief – but occasionally don’t fully work or can’t be successfully performed. You will need to discuss the risks and benefits with the anaesthetist and give your consent. You will then be asked to sit up in a curled position or lie on your side and the anaesthetist wearing a clean gown will clean your skin and perform the procedure. The tube delivers medicine into your back near the nerves that sense pain from your womb.

Often with an epidural a catheter is needed – this is a tube inserted into your bladder to help you wee. There are some risks of epidurals such as a 1 in 100 chance of significant headache afterwards. Rarely there can be tingling/pins and needles in one leg afterwards. Sometimes your back may be sore for a couple of days after the epidural.

An epidural isn’t usually needed for quicker labours or people who have had normal deliveries before. It can be very good for labours where a bit of medical help is needed, first labours, or longer ones such as when the baby is facing forwards still well into the labour (occipitoposterior).

We are very lucky to live in the UK where NHS hospitals and birth units offer a team of skilled and compassionate midwives ready to support us in labour. There are a range of methods to help you cope with labour. The availability of each one will depend on the setting you have chosen for your birth. Your midwife will listen and guide you if you’re not sure what to go for.

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