Managing pain in labour


For many pregnant women, one of the things we think about the most is our impending labour and delivery. There are many options for pain relief in labour and while things may not always go exactly as planned, it's worth spending some time considering the different options you might have.

Managing pain in early labour

Early labour pain can generally be managed at home. You may experience backache, or early contractions which may feel like intense period pains. To begin with, these contractions can be irregular and may come and go over hours, or even days.

Some techniques to help manage these early pains include:

• Taking a warm bath

• Deep breathing or relaxation exercises

• Having someone rub or massage your back - although you may find you don't want to be touched

• If you feel up to it, walking or moving about 

• Sitting or bouncing on a birthing/gym ball

• Using a TENS machine, which may reduce pain by electrically stimulating your nerves through pads applied to your skin. Some hospitals have TENS machines available.

• You can also consider taking paracetamol. Paracetamol is generally considered suitable for use while pregnant and during breastfeeding. You can discuss it with your pharmacist, Doctoror midwife if you're unsure

When to call the Doctor/Midwife

Contact your Doctor/Midwife once you're experiencing contractions in a regular pattern, with contractions coming every five minutes and lasting for at least 60 seconds. 

You should call your Doctor/midwife immediately if:

• Your waters break

• You're bleeding

• Your baby is moving less than usual

• You're less than 37 weeks pregnant and you think you might be in labour

Managing pain in active labour

During active labour, there are many pain relief options you can consider:

Being in water 

This can help you relax, and can make the contractions feel less painful.

Gas and air (also called Entonox)

Gas and air is a mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide gas that can help reduce the pain of contractions. Many women like using this because they're in control of when and how much they use it.

Pethidine injections 

These can help reduce pain and help you relax. They're given into the buttock or thigh by your midwife or doctor.


These are a local anaesthetic injection given directly into the back. They work by numbing the nerves that carry the pain impulses to your brain. For most women, this will block out the pain of labour completely. Epidurals can only be given by an anaesthetist, so they're only available in a hospital setting.

Next steps

• Think about what kind of pain relief you might consider for your labour and make sure you've included this in your birth plan

• Talk to your birth partner about how you would like your labour to be, so they can support your choices 

• Keep an open mind. It's good to have a plan, but be aware you may want to change your mind once your labour starts. Your doctor or midwife may also suggest other options as your labour progresses