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Pain Medications for Labor

Everything you need to know about medications during labor.


Let's face it: Labor can be a long and painful process. Thankfully, there are a number of safe and effective medications and procedures that can help alleviate some of the pain you may experience. Before your due date, discuss all of your options with your health care provider so you can make the best (and most comfortable) decision for you and your baby.

Here is everything you need to know about medications during labor:

Epidural block

An epidural block is a regional analgesic that delivers continuous pain relief to the lower part of the body. It can be used before a C-section or if a vaginal birth requires a little extra strength - from the forceps or vacuum extraction.


  • Mom is fully conscious.
  • The anesthetic is delivered through a catheter, which is injected directly into the mom's spinal cord, completely bypassing the bloodstream. Because of this, the medication has little or no effect on the baby.


  • It might decrease mom's blood pressure, which can slow the baby's heart rate.
  • Epidural might affect one side of mom's body more than the other.
  • It can affect the mom's chest wall, which makes it difficult to breathe.
  • Fever and itchiness may occur.

Spinal block

A spinal block is a regional anesthetic that is used to to relieve pain before delivery. The medication is a one-time injection delivered directly into the spinal fluid. This is common for moms who didn't receive medication during labor but want pain relief during the actual delivery.


  • Provides complete pain relief in the lower body.
  • Mom is fully conscious.


  • Although the relief is rapid, it only lasts about 1-2 hours.
  • It may decrease mom's blood pressure, which can slow the baby's heart rate.
  • Mom may experience queasiness.
  • Mom must remain flat on her back for about 8 hours after delivery.


Narcotics or systemic medications help lessen the pain, but they don't completely alleviate it altogether. Mom's who decide to take this route may also be given a tranquilizer - either alone or in combination with a narcotic. These are administered through an IV, so it goes directly into the bloodstream. Narcotics affect the entire body rather than a concentrated area. Nitrous oxide (laughing gas) is also an option here, which the mom simply inhales during contractions. It has little or no effect on the baby.


  • Mom is conscious.
  • Effective within minutes.
  • Reduces anxiety or nausea.


  • Mom may experience drowsiness.
  • Temporarily slows breathing for mom or the baby.
  • Deceased memory of labor.
  • Can decrease baby's muscle tone and activity during birth.

Local anesthetic

While a local anesthetic doesn't necessarily help with labor pain, it can be used to help numb the vaginal area. This medication is injected into the perineum or vaginal tissue.


  • Temporarily numbs a target area.
  • Effective immediately.


  • Doesn't relieve pain from contractions.
  • Possible allergic reaction or nausea.
  • May decrease mom's blood pressure.

For a painless delivery, be sure to consult with your health care provider to run through all your options before making a final decision.

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