Managing Pregnancy and Labor Pain

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If you are a new patient seeking prenatal care, please call 310-794-7274. If you are an established patient and need to reach labor and delivery, call 310-825-9111 for Westwood or 424-259-9250 for Santa Monica.

Managing Labor Pain

For most birthing parents, the contractions of labor are an uncomfortable experience. Managing this discomfort and staying relaxed will improve your labor experience and help your labor to progress. Attending a birth class can equip you with many helpful tips and suggestions on managing the discomfort of labor with or without medications. It can also help you make an informed decision about what will work best for you and your partner. We support whatever safe method you choose to help you with labor.

Pain management methods you might learn before your delivery include things such as acupressure, hypnobirthing, yoga breath awareness, essential oils and mindful awareness. Practice and planning are important. Think about what techniques might work best for you and practice with your partner or labor coach before the big day.

Other common approaches to managing labor and pregnancy discomforts include:

  • Walking
  • Moving into different positions that promote the labor process and ease the pain, such as:
    • Remaining upright while leaning or kneeling forward: Try leaning forward over a birth ball or your bed
    • Squatting: You can hold onto the back of a sturdy chair while you squat, or squat against a wall
    • Half squatting while holding a bar or other form of support
    • The hands and knees position with an arched back
  • Slow, focused breathing
  • Focusing methods, such as turning your attention to parts of your body that are not in pain
  • Massages
  • Birthing or yoga balls (you are welcome to bring them with you)
  • Peanut balls (available in our labor and delivery units)
  • Getting in the shower (we do not have tubs)

Some medications can safely help lower the amount of pain and discomfort you feel, including:

  • Morphine: A combination of IV and intramuscular morphine shots given in early labor if contractions are painful and you need to rest.
  • Nitrous oxide: This self-administered gas is given via a face mask, and can help “take the edge off "of pain.

Epidural for Pain Relief During Childbirth

Is an epidural right for me?

Childbirth is an intense process. The nature and degree of pain will vary among different birthing parents. It is often described as the worst cramping a person has ever felt. Some experience labor pain as a severe pulling, twisting or burning pain that can be felt in the abdomen or back.

Only you can make the decision to have an epidural. Epidurals are safe and effective. Having an epidural can drastically decrease your discomfort during labor. With your pain reduced, you will be able to rest before delivery and prepare for the birthing process.

What is an epidural?

Epidural anesthesia is a form of pain relief. It is the most common choice of pain control for birth in U.S. hospitals. Medications are delivered through a narrow tube called an epidural catheter. These medications decrease the impulses of nerves in your abdomen and the lower half of your body, which causes a decrease in pain sensation. An anesthesia doctor will place this catheter in your lower back.

It is normal to experience numbness, mild weakness in your legs and changes in temperature. Contrary to popular belief, an epidural will not significantly slow down the course of labor. The goal of the epidural is to significantly reduce labor pains. You may still feel your contractions, which will allow you to know when to push during delivery.

What should I expect during the epidural process?

The anesthesiologist will ask you about your medical history and perform a physical exam before the epidural is placed. You will need to have an IV with IV fluids before the placement of the epidural catheter.

The anesthesiologist will try to work with your contractions; however, you will likely have some contractions during the procedure. You will be asked to sit at the edge of the bed or lie on your side and curl your back. After your lower back is cleaned, you will feel a pinprick and burning sensation as numbing medicine is used to prepare your back for the procedure. It is important to be still while the epidural is being placed. If you feel like you have to move, please tell your anesthesiologist. Once the catheter is placed, it is secured to the back with tape.

Within 20 minutes, you will feel significant pain relief. It is normal to have some numbness, but your care team can change the dose to minimize weakness in your legs.

What are the possible side effects of the epidural?

You might have some itching or nausea. Please let your care team know if you do. Sometimes we can alter the epidural medication to help this.

Less commonly, you might have a temporary decrease in blood pressure or an increase in body temperature.

After the epidural is removed, you may have some back soreness at the site of the epidural. This will usually go away in a couple of days. In about 1 out of 100 cases, the epidural may cause a headache. Please let your anesthesiologist know if this happens.

There is an extremely small risk of neurologic issues, which are usually temporary. Please consult your anesthesiologist if you have further questions.