Are there any pain relief drugs taken orally that are used in labour?
No. They would not work anyway because absorption from the stomach during labour is patchy at best.
What is the final word on pain relief in labour?
There cannot be any final word when it comes to this very subjective aspect of labour. There are, however hard facts that any pregnant woman anticipating labour needs to know.
Methods that do not use any kind of drugs are available. They are usually only really effective in the latent and early stages of labour. The TENS machine is the most common and well known.
Gas and air (Entonox) works fast and the effect wears off rapidly. It has to be used continuously to be really effective. It makes you sleepy and its effectiveness is limited and, for most, inadequate in established labour.
Injection (systemic) painkillers such as Diamorphine and Pethidine are the most widely used painkillers in labour. Virtually all cause nausea and/or vomiting. They are also quite sedating. Opinion among women differs widely on their effectiveness; some find them adequate and many others think they are almost totally useless.
The epidural is by far the most effective method of pain relief in labour. In most cases it renders the woman completely pain-free. Drawbacks include being confined to bed and it may prolong the second stage of labour. It is extremely safe with occasional temporary side-effects. In a very few instances it doesn't work. In the end, it is the individual woman’s choice. Some women find the idea of an epidural simply unacceptable.
Last update: February 25, 2013