Understanding pain relief choices in childbirth

What type of pain management is best during labor? That answer largely depends on your preferences and on how your labor progresses. No two women have the same tolerance for pain. No two labors are exactly the same. Some women need little or no pain medication. Others find that pain relief gives them a better sense of control over their labors and deliveries. Ultimately, you need to choose what's right for you.

The decision of whether to use medication during labor and delivery is mostly yours. However, it may also depend on your health care provider's recommendations, what's available at your hospital or birthing center, and the specific character of your labor.

Sometimes, you won't know what kinds of pain relief you want until you're in labor. Each woman's labor is unique to her. Your perception of labor pain will differ from that of other women in labor. In addition, your capacity to deal with pain during childbirth can be affected by factors such as the length of your labor, the size and position of your baby, and how rested you are as labor begins. No one can predict how you'll cope with the pain of your first labor, and subsequent labors often don't follow the same pattern.

When making your decision, keep in mind that birth isn't a test of endurance. You won't have failed if you ask for a pain relief drug. Keep in mind, too, that the contractions of labor have a purpose. Labor pains are a sign that your body is working hard to open your cervix and move the baby down the birth canal.

Before that first contraction kicks in, it's a good idea to think about the method — or methods — of pain relief you might prefer and to discuss your preferences with your health care provider. Whatever birth plan you ultimately devise, keep an open mind about it. Labors often don't go according to plan.

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