Birth Planning, Comfort Measures

A brief overview of medications for pain in childbirth

In the latest survey of American women, 17% reported giving birth without using pain medication. This means most American women will use some type of medication to help them cope with labor pain.


The most common type of medication used in labor is an epidural or spinal. It is used by 62% of American women who give birth vaginally and for 80% of cesarean deliveries. These medications are injected into your back and can provide relief through your entire labor. They are popular because they do the best job of removing pain. They also have a low rate of failure, which means most women who choose to use an epidural will have relief.

Though they are good at providing pain relief, the time between decision to use an epidural and getting relief can take an hour. This is because epidural is a process of providing pain relief that requires an anesthesiologist. Some women decide they would rather have something “right now”.

Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous Oxide is a gas that can be used during labor. To use it, you put a mask over your nose and mouth and breath normally. As it makes you feel relaxed and sleepy you will naturally remove the mask from your face. The feeling will wear off at the end of the contraction. Though this is a common method of pain relief in other parts of the world, it can beĀ  difficult to find in the United States. About 6% of women in the United States use Nitrous Oxide.


Narcotic Analgesics are injected into a muscle or an IV. They provide relief from strong contractions, but do not completely remove the sensation. Unlike epidurals, these medications can be given by a nurse. That means you can generally get relief quickly. They are used less commonly than epidurals, only 16% of women in the United States use these. Part of the reason is that these medications will wear off after an hour or two, which may not be what a woman wants in labor. Also, unlike an epidural, they cannot be used for pain relief for pushing. However, these medications work well for women who are not looking for a completely painless labor and women who feel they want a “break” during labor. These medications are also helpful for women who cannot get an epidural for health reasons.


Some women are offered the use of tranquilizers during labor. These medications do not remove pain. Instead they help a mother remain calm or put her to sleep. These medications can be helpful for women having long early labors because they allow her to conserve energy for active labor.


Jennifer (Author)