Home » Pain Relief During Childbirth: is an Epidural Safe for the Baby?

Pain Relief During Childbirth: is an Epidural Safe for the Baby?

In a world where pain relief during childbirth, like an epidural, isn’t always the only option, how can you manage the pain? Discover more, right here…

There’s a fair bit of controversy surrounding medical pain relief during labour. Some medical professionals believe that birth injuries to mothers and babies are more likely with pain medication. Because of this, some mothers choose the more natural birthing options, meaning people who give birth are inundated with choice.

In a world where childbirth is more advanced than ever, how can you decide what direction to take?

In this article, we hope to help you answer that all-important question of pain relief. We’ll be doing so by letting you in on the types of medical pain relief out there, and the side effects these may cause. We’ll then dive into some of the more natural options, so you can make the most informed decision possible.Types of Medical Pain Relief During Childbirth and the Side Effects

Starting with the medical methods of pain relief, let’s dive right in…

Gas and Air (Entonox)

Gas and air for pain relief in labour is probably your first thought when you imagine the birthing process. We see enough of this on TV to make us believe this is the way things go. But what exactly is it, and is it as scary as American Horror Story makes it seem?

Basically, it’s a mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen which is released into your lungs through a mask or mouthpiece. Although it doesn’t completely remove the pain, it can help to relax you, making it more bearable.

This is a popular choice, as it’s easy to instantly administer and control. All you need to do is to breathe it in using deep slow breathes for 15-20 seconds when contractions begin, and it should work pretty instantly.

Opioid Injections

Opioid injections, like pethidine or diamorphine, are also a potential option. They are injected into your thigh or buttocks, and will take around 20 minutes to kick in. The relief lasts for about two to four hours, making them ideal for a long-term pain management solution.

The main concern with this option is that it can cause the baby to start breathing slower, and it’s thought that it could have long-term developmental effects on them. What’s more, it’s not really confirmed that they have much more effect other than a placebo reaction, so other options might be better.


Arguably, the most effective pain relief during labour is an epidural. This is a local anaesthesia, which is injected into the lower back. This means pain is alleviated from the waist down, making it a great choice for both vaginal and caesarean deliveries.

The amount of anaesthesia can be increased or decreased depending on your experience, so be sure to speak up if you think you need any more or less. Generally, it’s a good choice for women experiencing a particularly long labour; it can help them to manage it more easily.

There are some concerns over how safe an epidural is for you and your baby. However, a lot of these a more myth than truth. Ultimately, it can just be a little frustrating, as you will be confined to your bed due to your numb legs.

Sterile Water Injections

Another option is to have sterile water injected into the lower back to help relieve pain. The idea is that the water can help to prevent back pain by reducing the pain signals that head to the brain. All it takes is two to four 0.1ml to 0.5ml injections, reducing the pain of contractions for around two to three hours.

Some Other Options

We won’t move on until we’ve covered all the options, so some other quick ones to cover include:

  • Spinal block: like an epidural, but lasts for less time.
  • Analgesics: shots or IVs, which are more likely to affect your whole body, as well as the baby.
  • General anaesthesia: this will put you completely to sleep, and is usually just a last resort in emergencies.
  • Tranquillisers: another last resort, only in cases of extreme anxiety, are tranquilizers. Due to being quite high risk, they’re not used in common practice.Is Medical Pain Relief During Childbirth Safe?

As you can see, there are a huge number of different medical pain relievers during childbirth, and there is a lot of talk about how safe they actually are. In most cases, including the opioids and gas and air, you and the baby are unlikely to experience long-term effects. You might feel a little light-headed, nauseous, woozy, and sleepy, but nothing more than that.

The worst that might happen with these is that it could affect the baby’s breathing. This might have long-term effects on the child, but this is unlikely.

After an epidural, you might feel very heavy in the legs, and you might experience fluid build-up or a lowering in blood pressure. You might also experience a prolonged second stage of labour, and without feeling contractions, you won’t know when to push. Because of this, intravenous methods, including forceps, might be required, which could cause injury.

Ultimately, you may find that none of these choices are effective; it’s really down to your own personal experience.Natural Pain Relief Options During Labour

What you should know before making a decision is that pain management during labour without an epidural or other medical pain relief is possible.

Over the past decade, the number of people choosing to use pain relief when giving birth has dropped by six percent. This really goes to show the changing the attitudes to using medication to cope. No wonder the different types of natural birthing techniques out there are becoming part of the dialogue much more than ever before.

With this in mind, what are some of the methods for more natural pain relief during labour to try? Some of the most common ones include:

Educate Yourself

The power of knowledge and education can’t be overstated. The fear of the unknown is usually a lot worse than the thing itself.

Knowing more about what’s happening to your body throughout your pregnancy and birth should help you to rationalise the pain. This way, you can explain it away, and it’ll be much less frightening. Be sure to speak to your midwife or doctor, and do some online research, to help you tick this off the list.

Breathing and Relaxation

One of the most important ways to relax in day-to-day life is to breathe slowly and deeply to reduce stress and bring some calm energy in. This works not just for labour, but for any aspect of life; using slow rhythmic breathing to release tension. Having relaxed muscles is likely to make labour much less painful, as your cervical muscles won’t be all tight and scrunched up.

Your antenatal class is likely to cover this topic, so be sure to listen up on the techniques you should be using here. If in doubt, there’s always information for this online, or ask your midwife.


Something which is really becoming part of the pain relief conversation is hypnobirthing. This is a complete education programme which helps mothers with “self hypnosis” to release the fears and anxieties of what’s ahead of them.

The main idea is that it uses the breathing techniques mentioned above, as well as visualisation of the end goal to get you through it. By concentrating on your body, and what’s happening during the birth through mindfulness, this can help you to get through it.

Birthing Ball

A birthing ball is a large inflatable ball, like an exercise ball, which can be gently bounced on or rocked on to relive discomfort. It’s something you can not only use to sit on for comfort during pregnancy, but can also double up as a tool during birth too. It’s great to help you experiment with different birthing positions, helping you to stay in control of the process.

Having a Water Birth

A water birth is also something that’s becoming more popular these days. Much like a bath on a stressful day, being in warm water can help mothers to feel more relaxed, reducing muscle tension. Not only this, but it also helps the body to feel lighter during this uncomfortable situation, providing more freedom and movement to get into different positions.

If you think this will be a nice option for you, be sure to let your midwife know as soon as possible. This way, you can be ready with your birthing pool, and have everything in place before labour begins. You need to be really sure this is the method you want to go for, however, as once in the bath, you can’t use any medical pain relief.

TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation)

A TENS machine is something you may not have heard before, but is a pretty nifty gadget that attaches to your back with sticky pads. It is used to send out electrical impulses into your lower back to block pain signals to the brain. This makes you less aware of any pain you’re feeling and can even release endorphins in the body; natural pain-relieving adrenalin.

For this, you’ll need to hire the machine a few weeks before birth. It’s best to try it out before you begin labour so you can learn how to use it. Using it before labour has proven most effective, however, and may not be so effective when the baby starts to arrive.

Physical Movement

Moving your body throughout labour can help you to feel more relaxed and in control. It’s suggested that you rock and sway, which is where a birthing ball can come in handy. You might also try moving into different positions, or even dancing a little, to relieve any tension.

Complementary Therapies Pre-Birth

There are lots of techniques you can use prior to the actual birth which can help you to cope better when the time comes. Some examples of this include:

  • Massages
  • Acupuncture
  • Aromatherapy
  • Yoga
  • Reflexology
  • Homeopathy

What Pain Relief Will You Choose For Your Childbirth?

Now that you’re in the know about the different types of medical and natural pain-relieving methods for childbirth, it’s time to make your decision. It’s a good idea to make these choices as early on during the pregnancy as possible. This way, you and your midwife can work together to prepare you for what’s to come. The psychological benefits of having this plan in place can work wonders for your mentality!

If you think we’ve missed any important pain-relieving techniques for childbirth, be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments down below. Don’t be afraid to also leave your stories and experiences too, so we can educate one another on what to expect. Thank you for reading, we hope this helps you, and good luck with your birth!