Pain relief for labour and birth is divided into two separate methods; nonpharmacological and pharmacological.
Non-pharmacological pain relief refers to interventions that do not involve the use of medications to manage pain. Non-pharmacological pain relief options are great because they have no adverse effects to both mother and baby.
Pharmacological pain relief involve the use of medication to treat pain. These methods often can have an impact on both mother and baby and have both risks and benefits. It is best to talk to your healthcare provider about your options and what pain relief options your place of birth provides.
Both the non-pharmacological and pharmacological options generally work by acting on the gate control theory of pain. The gate control theory of pain suggests that the spinal cord contains a neurological ‘gate’ that either blocks pain signals or allows them to continue on to the brain.
Researchers have long observed that factors such as thoughts, emotions and expectations can influence our expectations of pain. If you expect something to hurt, it probably will. If you are upset, anxious or frightened pain may seem more intense than it would if you were calm and relaxed. Pain signals traveling via small nerve fibres are allowed to pass through the ‘gate’ while signals sent by large nerve fibres are blocked.
The wonderful thing about all of these options is that they don’t need to be used in isolation. You can use a combination of these methods, which can complement another treatment during your labour and birth to achieve pain relief and ultimately an exciting, enjoyable and empowering childbirth experience.