Pain Relief Options for Labor and Childbirth

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

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Local anesthesia

Local injections of a numbing medication may be used to relieve a small area of pain, typically around the vagina, if you require an episiotomy to extend the vaginal opening or if stitches are needed to repair any damage. This type of anesthesia cannot be used to relieve the pain from contractions during labor.

Pudendal block

A pudendal block is another type of local anesthesia. It involves injecting a numbing medication into the vaginal wall shortly before delivery to block pain signals from the vagina and area around the vaginal opening. It usually works within 10 minutes and lasts for up to an hour.


Narcotics, or opioids, are drugs that decrease our perception of pain. They may be given intravenously or as an intramuscular injection during labor. They may lead to nausea or sleepiness, and they do not completely eliminate pain. Although narcotics have been shown to be safe in labor, they may cause a temporary depression in breathing for both mother and baby.

Nitrous oxide

Nitrous oxide is an odorless, tasteless, inhaled gas that is given using a hand-held face mask. It is not generally used in labor in the US but is sometimes used in the United Kingdom and Canada. It has little effect on the baby. Nitrous oxide does not eliminate pain but changes the way the pain is perceived.

REFERENCE: Labor and Delivery, Analgesia, Regional and Local.

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  • Pain Relief Options for Childbirth - Side Effects

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  • Pain Relief Options for Childbirth - Timing of Anesthesia

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  • Pain Relief Options for Childbirth - Epidurals and Spinals

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  • Pain Relief Options for Childbirth - Medications

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