Pain relief and management during labour

There is no doubt about it that labour can be a long and painful process. It is important that you take some time to consider your options and prepare yourself to cope. In Ireland we are very lucky to have so many options available to us.


It is a good idea to find out about pain relief options and to think about what might be best for you. If it is your first baby it’s hard to know what level of pain you have to think about. If you understand the process of labour you will feel less frightened and this will help you to manage pain better.

Breathing and relaxation

 Learning how to relax and breathe properly takes practice. It is important you take time out for yourself during pregnancy and find what helps you to relax. Some women have great difficulty with this, especially as most lead very busy lives. The benefits are huge to your health and wellbeing. Learning how to relax and good breathing techniques will help you to stay calm during labour. The calmer you are, the more likely you will feel in control and this will help you to cope with the pain.

TENS (Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation)

TENS is very effective in the early stages of labour especially for lower back pain. You can continue to move around and try different positions while using it. Electrodes are taped onto your back and connected by wires to a hand held control box. The electrodes deliver safe amounts of currents believed to stimulate the body to produce endorphins, the body’s natural painkiller. It also reduces the number of pain signals delivered to the brain. You can control the frequency and strength of the current, depending on the level of pain. There are no side effects to you or baby.

Entonox (Gas and air)

Entonox is a pain relieving gas that you breathe through a mask or mouthpiece. The gas interferes with the pain signals in the brain. It won’t remove the pain, but it helps reduce it and makes it more bearable. Many women like it because it is easy to use and there are no known side effects to you or your baby.


Pethidine can be given quickly and easily by injection, usually into the muscle in your bum. It starts to work within 20 minutes and lasts up to four hours. It can be very effective in the early stages of labour. It causes drowsiness that can often allow the mammy to get some much needed sleep.


An epidural can give most women complete relief from pain. They are given by anaesthetic doctors in hospital. The doctor passes a needle into your back near to the nerves that carry the pain impulses from your womb. The contractions and labour will continue, but hopefully you will no longer feel any pain. It takes about 10 minutes to start working and usually lasts until after the baby is born. An epidural causes a numbing sensation from your tummy down to your legs. This makes your legs feel very heavy. You won’t be able to walk directly afterwards and often for a number of hours after delivery. Because women are confined to bed after an epidural, you won’t be able to get out to the toilet so you will have to have a tube passed into your bladder to drain urine. This is done once the epidural is working, so don’t worry, you won’t feel it.

Water Birth

During labour, getting into a pool of warm water helps you to relax and reduce the pain. Some women choose to labour in a birthing pool and get out when they feel the urge to ‘push’.  Others choose to stay in and deliver their baby directly into the water. A water birth is only available in the Coombe hospital or by hiring a self-employed community midwife who will facilitate a water birth in your own home.


Hypnosis or hypnobirthing is becoming increasingly popular as some women try to avoid pain relief during labour. Women learn the process of self-hypnosis to cope with the pain of labour. It can be a very effective method of pain relief but it does require practice and preparation.


Whatever your thoughts are on pain relief during labour, be sure to discuss them further with your doctor or Midwife to find the most suitable option for your individual pregnancy.