Birth Decisions: Medications

By Louise Hanvey, BN, MHA on March 13, 2007

Everyone perceives and copes with pain during labour and birth differently. Some women feel that because childbirth is natural and healthy, it should proceed without using medication for pain.

Others feel that there is no need to suffer through pain during labour, and that women should take advantage of the pain medications available through modern medicine. One thing is for sure, though: whether or not you take medication for pain during your labour is your decision. There is no 'right' or 'wrong'.

If you would rather not take medication during labour, breathing techniques (which you learn at prenatal class) can help focus your attention away from the pain. Having a person you trust by your side during childbirth is also helpful. Have confidence in your body. Remember, women have been doing this for thousands of years. You can do it, too!


Types Of Medications

There are a variety of options if you decide to take medication to help you through the pain of childbirth. Medications called analgesics dull pain but do not completely block it. Anesthetics are medications that completely block sensation.

Talk to your doctor about the medications available during labour at the hospital where you plan to give birth. Ask about the possible effects of the medications on you and your baby.


Narcotic Analgesics
These drugs are injected directly into the muscle. Narcotic analgesics:
  • Will allow you to relax and give some relief from pain for three to four hours.
  • May depress the baby's breathing if given three to four hours before birth (talk to your doctor about this).

Inhalant Analgesics

Inhalant analgesics are analgesics which the woman in labour inhales using an inhalation mask. The labouring woman starts inhaling the gas at the beginning of a contraction and stops inhaling when the contraction has ended. Nitronox or Entonox are the inhalant analgesics available for childbirth. Each is a gas made up of 50 percent oxygen and 50 percent Nitrous Oxide.

Inhalant analgesics:

  • Are useful during rapid labour or when an episiotomy is being sutured.

Anesthetic Blocks

Anesthetic blocks are medications that are used just before birth or for an episiotomy. There are several kinds of anesthetic blocks ask your doctor which ones are used at your hospital.


Epidural Anesthesia

This medication is injected into the space around the mothers spinal column. It numbs the lower body. A small, plastic tube can be left in place so that more medication can be given when needed.


Epidural Anesthesia:
  • Can slow labour if it is given too early.
  • Can interfere with pushing.
  • Can cause the labouring woman's blood pressure to fall. This is easily treated.
  • Is the safest technique when used properly. EX
Published in March 2007

By Louise Hanvey, BN, MHA| March 13, 2007

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