Tools for managing labor pains

Labor is hard. It involves pain, which is one of the most frightening aspects about delivering your baby.
Oct. 3, 2016

Most pregnant women want to know what the pain will feel like, how to cope, what reduces labor pains and the possible side effects of medication and anesthesia.

Keep an open mind. Sometimes you won’t know what kind of pain relief you want until you are in labor. No two labors are alike, and all women experience pain differently. Thankfully, there are many options to deal with the labor pains. Some will work well, some will only work briefly and then need to be changed. Have several tools in your kit.

Natural tools

Comfortable environment

Think about what relaxes you at home and try to recreate that environment in your hospital room.

  • Music – Create a playlist of music that relaxes you.
  • Aromatherapy – Bring your favorite lotions or oils.
  • Support team – Surround yourself with supportive people who know you and what you want.


Breathing is not something you must tell yourself to do every day, but during labor, you need to focus on it. Think of your breathing as oxygen for your baby and as a path through your contraction.



  • Learn to relax your mind as well as your body.
  • Mentally visualize yourself somewhere peaceful.
  • Relax between contractions. Forget about the last contraction, and don’t worry about the next contraction.

Position change

  • Get out of the bed! Yes, resting is good, but moving around helps your labor progress.
  • Gravity and the movement of your legs and pelvis help the baby descend.
  • Use the birth ball to open the pelvis.
  • Get on your hands and knees. Being on all fours is great for back labor and helps babies rotate.


Have your partner apply firm pressure and ice packs to your lower back.


Soaking in the tub

This can reduce pain by enhancing relaxation and can speed up labor.


Use of medication


  • Given intravenously and acts on the entire nervous system, to lessen pain.
  • Side effects can be nausea, feeling drowsy, having trouble concentrating.
  • Dulls the pain, enables rest between contractions, but does not totally relieve pain.
  • Allows mothers to change positions, move around the room.
  • Cannot be given too close to the birth as it does pass to the baby and may slow down the baby’s respiratory system after birth.
  • May lose effectiveness after a few doses.


Anesthesia – epidurals

  • Most common type of pain relief for labor and delivery.
  • Medication is given through a tiny tube placed into the lower back.
  • A combination of analgesia and anesthetic medication is used which causes loss of feeling in the lower areas of your body. You still remain awake and alert and should be able to bear down to push your baby out for a vaginal delivery.
  • An epidural can also be used for a cesarean delivery, with an increase in the dose of anesthetic.
  • Epidural lasts as long as your labor lasts.
  • You will not be able to walk around, but you will be able to move some in the bed. You may still be aware of contractions although not uncomfortable.
  • Most common side effects: Decrease in blood pressure, low-grade fever, headache (rare), and back soreness (for a few days after delivery).


Often times labor does not go as planned. If it is your first time delivering a baby, you may not know what to expect at all! Therefore, it is best to be aware of your options and to think about them ahead of time. Be open to suggestions and to allow yourself to change your plans if needed. Find out what is available at your birthing center or hospital and talk to your provider about what you desire.

Karen Vorderberg is a certified nurse midwife at UCHealth OB/GYN and sees patients at both the West Greeley and Loveland locations.

About the author

Karen Vorderberg is a writer for UCHealth.