Pain Relief In Labour: The Options Available To You

Many women find it very helpful to know what options are available for pain relief during labour. Feeling prepared can help you feel calmer during the labour and birth.


pain relief in labour


Early Labour

During the early stages of labour, there are some things that you can do at home to relieve the pain and discomfort. You can try moving and walking around. A warm bath may also help you to feel better. Getting a back massage or using a TENS machine may also help. Some women also find that paracetamol can help but make a note to tell the hospital if you take any.


Breathing And Relaxation

Breathing and relaxation exercises can help you stay calm during labour. Many antenatal classes practice these techniques as you prepare for the birth. Slow, rhythmic breathing can help keep you feeling relaxed.



Hypnobirthing uses visualisation, relaxation, mindfulness and breathing to help you relax and manage your pain. It teaches you to concentrate on your body, and your baby. It can be used alongside other methods of pain relief.


Birthing Ball

A birthing ball is similar to an exercise ball. It’s an inflatable but burst resistant ball. It can help to bounce, or rock on it to ease any pain. You can use another pain relief method alongside the birthing ball. There are two other major benefits to a birthing ball. Firstly, you can control it. If one movement doesn’t offer relief, you can try different movements. Secondly, it can help your body to prepare for labour as it can help open your pelvis ready for birth.


Water Birth

Water births are used by nearly 1 in 3 women for pain relief. Some women say that one of the biggest pluses of a water birth is that they can move freely and feel supported in the water. Some hospitals have pools available for water births, or you could hire a pool and have a home birth. There are some other pros and cons to a water birth.



  • You have some control as you can move around more freely and change into a comfortable position.
  • A water birth is not dangerous for your baby as their breathing reflex only starts once they come into contact with air.
  • You can use gas and air as well.



  • The pool will take time to fill, which may mean that you don’t have time to use it.
  • The pool may not be available.


TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation)

A TENS machine can be a great form of pain relief. It’s a small machine with sticky pads that are placed on your back. The machine sends out electrical pulses which can help block the pain signals from going to your brain and can stimulate your body to produce more of its natural painkillers. Essentially, it helps you become less aware of the pain and encourages your body to release the chemicals that help manage pain in your body. Some hospitals may have TENS machines available, but there are services where you can hire or buy a machine.



  • A TENS machine gives you control as you can give yourself small, safe amounts of current through the electrodes and you can move around while you use it.
  • It can be used alongside other pain relief methods.
  • It doesn’t affect your baby.



  • It doesn’t work for all women.
  • You may need to use other methods of pain relief as well.
  • It can’t be used in a birth pool, shower, or bath.
  • It is most effective in back pain in the early stages of labour but not effective in active labour


Entonox (Gas And Air)

Entonox is a mix of oxygen and nitrous oxide gas. You breathe it in using a mask or a mouthpiece. You need to take deep, slow breaths for maximum effect.



  • It’s fast acting.
  • It takes the edge off pain, making it more manageable.
  • You can control it.
  • It doesn’t affect the baby.
  • It can be used with other pain relief methods.



  • It can make some people feel sick or lightheaded.
  • It doesn’t get rid of all the pain, and you may need other pain relief alongside it.


Pain Relief Drugs

There are a few different types of pain relief drugs that may be available to you during labour. Diamorphine and pethidine can be offered as injections. Each works in a slightly different manner. You should ask which pain relief drugs are offered at your local hospital.



  • They may help your body to relax.
  • They can make the pain more manageable.
  • You may be able to sleep through the pain.



  • Pain relief drugs may make you drowsy
  • They may cause nausea, or even vomiting
  • If they are given too close to the time of delivery, they may affect the baby’s breathing but if this happens another medicine can be given to reverse this
  • They may interfere with your baby’s first feed



An epidural is a local anaesthetic.  It’s injected into the spine and can be topped up if needed. It’s only available on a labour ward, as both you and baby need to be closely monitored. However, an epidural should be effective throughout delivery, delivery of placenta, and any stitching required.



  • An epidural often gives complete pain relief, which is especially useful in long and painful labours
  • You may be able to have an epidural that allows you to top it up yourself



  • An epidural can only be given in hospital by an anaesthetist
  • You may not be able to move around as much depending on the local anaesthetic used
  • It may increase the risk of assisted delivery
  • It may increase the length of time in the second stage of labour
  • You and your baby will need to be monitored closely
  • There may be side effects such as low blood pressure, headaches and loss of bladder control


It can help for you to talk to your midwife, or doctor about what pain relief options are available in your local hospital. You should write down your preferred pain relief options, but if you feel that you’d like to try something else during your labour, that’s fine too. Keep an open mind and listen to your body and what you need.