Pain-relief for labour: What are your options?

Choosing the right pain relief should ensure a smooth delivery for you. We look at the methods available in Singapore

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From your first positive test, to discovering your baby’s gender, your pregnancy is an event-filled journey that will ultimately culminate in labour and the birth of your little one.

No two ways about it ― labour is going to be painful for most women. This is caused by the contractions of your uterus, the pressure your about-to-arrive baby is putting on your cervix, and the stretching of your birth canal and vagina.

In addition, labour can be exhausting. You might start with mild contractions, seven minutes apart, but this can progress quickly into strong waves of pain, with less time for you to relax in between.  

“Know yourself, and know that you don’t need to suffer.”

While labour is different for every woman, it’s important to learn about all the ways you can ease your pain. SmartParents expert Dr Christopher Chong, a consultant obstetrician, and gynaecologist at Gleneagles Hospital, advises his patients to “know yourself, and know that you don’t need to suffer”.

“I always joke with my patients that if they were to kick and scratch the gynae when they are in pain, then yes, please use the epidural,” he laughs. He also adds that pain relief can help the patient to relax and help the cervix to open faster. “I If the labour is going to be long, it’s important to have no pain, so that the patient can rest and have enough energy to push the baby out.”                                                                           

Here are some common pain-relief options available in Singapore.

Entonox

Also known as laughing gas, this is a mix of oxygen and nitrous oxide gas. While this won’t remove all the pain, it can make it more bearable. The labouring mum will use it herself when she needs it, and should be inhaled 30 seconds before each contraction for maximum effect, Dr Chong notes. Nausea and “feeling high” are some common side effects.

Says Katherine Tan, mum to Denise, 2, “The gas was useful because it helped me to control my breathing when the contractions came.”

Pethidine (An intra-muscular injection)

This analgesic is administered via an injection to the buttocks ― the dosage is dependent on the mother’s weight. It dulls the response of pain fibres in the mum’s body.

Pethidine can potentially cause the foetal heartrate to drop, or the foetus can become sleepy. Dr Chong adds that pethidine should preferably not be given within four hours of delivery as it may “cross over to the foetus, making him sleepy and retarding his breathing at birth”. In some cases, an antidote may need to be injected into the baby. Common side effects for the mum include nausea, vomiting and sleepiness.