FAQs: Relieving Pain in Labor

The following are some common question and answers about pain relief during labor.

Q: What is the difference between analgesia and anesthesia?
A: Analgesia is full or partial relief of painful sensations. Anesthesia is usually considered to be a more intense blockage of all sensations including muscle movement.

Q: What is a regional anesthetic? 
A: Spinals, epidurals and combined spinal-epidurals are regional anesthetics. A section or "region" of the body is numbed by the medicine that is injected into the spinal canal. The legs, torso and part of the chest are the areas that become numb.

Q: If I sign a consent form to have an epidural, can I change my mind during labor if I think I don’t need it?
A: Yes. Telling the anesthesiologist your preference, or signing a consent form for anesthesia, does NOT obligate you to get an epidural anesthetic. You may later decide that you would rather have natural childbirth or another method of pain relief.

Q: Should I be concerned about eating and drinking during labor?
A: There is a concern of food and certain liquids regurgitating from the stomach into the throat (reflux) and entering the breathing passage during labor. It can result in soiling and damaging of the lungs, which may cause life-threatening breathing problems called lung aspiration during labor. This assumes even more importance if you need general anesthesia for childbirth. However, recent research suggests it is safe for a woman to drink moderate amounts of clear liquids during labor.

Q: Are there methods of pain relief that don’t involve medication or anesthetics?
A:  Non-medicated childbirth pain relief methods include Hypnobirthing® and Lamaze. Hypnobirthing® is not new, but rather a "rebirth" of the philosophy of birthing as it existed thousands of years ago. The method teaches you that in the absence of fear and tension, severe pain does not have to accompany labor. Lamaze encourages women to give birth naturally by reducing the fear (and pain) of childbirth through knowledge and relaxation. It consists of continuous labor support and the use of relaxation and breathing strategies.