Although some women do have relatively easy births without needing any drugs, using a water birth, for example, many more women do end up using some form of pain relief.
Given that a woman's experience of birth - difficult or easy, long or quite short – can affect how she bonds with her new child, how she copes with the demands of early parenthood, and how she feels about being a parent herself, it is very important that, if any form of pain relief is used, a woman does not feel she has 'cheated'. Remember, even with pain relief, pregnancy, birth and parenthood are never a breeze so you have definitely not cheated!
All forms of medical assistance are rigourously checked so no pain relief that you might be offered at your birth clinic, at hospital or even at home by your midwife, will be 'dangerous'. However, some forms of pain relief do have a passing impact on your baby.
How pain relief affects your baby
Here are the conventional pain relief options you are likely to be offered, or which you might consider.
TENS and Entonox
Many women find it more effective to use a TENS machine and take entonox (also known as 'gas and air'), at the same time, to get through labour.
Both these forms of pain relief are safe for your baby, although gas and air may leave you feeling a little light-headed and sick.
This drug takes about 20 minutes to kick in and lasts for two to four hours. It can make you feel sick and drowsy. The timing of this drug is significant. If it's given too close to delivery, it can slow the baby's breathing and make your baby drowsy on arrival. Also, it will take several days for the drug to clear from his system, however there is no long-term effect.
This drug is similar to pethidine and can also make you feel sick and drowsy. However, it doesn't affect your baby's breathing as much as pethidine, so it can be given closer to the delivery. However, it is not available at all hospitals.
This form of pain relief numbs your nerves so you don't feel the contractions, but leaves you immobile. It is possible to see the blood pressure drop when an epidural is used, so you and your baby will be monitored through the labour. Other side effects are rare.
Increasingly popular is the 'mobile epidural' so that you can move about even though you have been given this numbing treatment. This is not available everywhere, though.