Pain Relief During Labor

Pregnancy Resources

Before labor it is important that you discuss pain relief options available to you with your provider. While every labor is different, and your mind may change during labor, it is recommended that you decide on a birth plan beforehand so that your doctor is aware of your wishes and expectations. We support whatever pain relief options you consider.


An epidural is a local anesthetic delivered through a tiny tube called a catheter and placed in the small of the back, just outside of the spinal canal. It is the most common method of pain relief during labor and, in most cases, administered once cervical dilation reaches 4 to 5 centimeters. The pain relief is significant and epidurals can eliminate up to 90-100% of labor and delivery discomfort.

How is it administered?

Epidurals are administered by an anesthesiologist who will give you a small local anesthetic to numb the area where the epidural will be placed. Then a larger needle will be inserted and finally, a flexible catheter, is placed in the lower back and will remain there until delivery is complete. Labor pain will subside in approximately 20 minutes.

Are there risks?

If you have had spine surgery, are allergic to anesthetic or have blood clotting problems you typically won’t be able to receive an epidural. And while this method of pain relief is considered extremely safe, some mild symptoms sometimes occur, including: itchiness, low blood pressure, vomiting or nausea, and headache.


Opioids, also known as narcotics and analgesics, don’t numb the body the way an epidural does, but work through the nervous system to help block pain and create a drowsy, calming state. The pain relief is not as strong as with an epidural, and does not last as long. Opioids can be given in combination with an epidural.

How are they administered?

Opioids can be administered by a shot directly into your muscle, or through IV drip. Opioids do not have to be given by an anesthesiologist, so they are readily available at all hospitals and are typically given during early and active stages of labor.

Are there risks?

Opioids do cross the placenta, which means that the baby can be sedated upon delivery, especially if the drug is given late in labor. Opioids can also increase the chance of nausea, vomiting and a drop in blood pressure.

Nitrous Oxide:

Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, is both an anxiolytic (a drug used for anxiety relief) and an analgesic (a drug used for pain relief). This drug is used to “take the edge” off of the pain, and help relieve anxiety, rather than to eliminate labor and delivery pain all together.

How is it administered?

It is self-administered by the patient through an oxygen mask and has no adverse effects on the normal physiology and progress of labor.

Are there risks?

Laughing gas can cause nausea and dizziness, but these symptoms generally subside within minutes.

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