Managing Labor Pain

Laboring women today have many options for pain relief – from breathing techniques and water therapy in whirlpool tubs to epidurals.

When deciding how to manage your labor pain, the decision is yours. If you choose to use pain medications we have an expert team available with anesthesiologists and certified registered nurse anesthetists.

Natural relief for labor pain

There is no perfect method to completely eliminate labor pains from beginning to end. Our pregnancy and parenting classes teach effective techniques that will help. When you’re in labor, our nursing staff is trained to help you use these the right way.

Our alternative pain relief options include:

  • Relaxation techniques
  • Visual imagery and focusing
  • Position changes
  • Breathing techniques
  • Birth balls
  • Heat and cold therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Showers /whirlpool tubs

Some women find comfort techniques are all they need to cope with the pain of childbirth. Others decide they want pain medication as well. Throughout labor and birth, our nurses provide reassurance and suggestions for relief of pain. In an emergency, or if you or your baby’s wellbeing is at risk, your doctor may choose the delivery method he/she feels it is in the best interest for you and your baby’s safety.

Medication for labor pain at Henry Ford

For patients who choose to receive medication for pain relief, we offer intravenous (IV) medications and anesthesia as early in labor as possible. Our anesthesiologists and certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) are available 24/7, so you can trust that an expert will be available for you. We offer:

  • Local anesthesia
  • Epidural
  • Spinal block
  • General anesthesia

Local anesthesia

Local anesthesia only affects a small area. We typically use it to ease pain during delivery and before an episiotomy or repairing a laceration. Local anesthesia does not relieve the pain of contractions during labor.


Epidural anesthesia is helpful for easing the pain of uterine contractions, delivery and an episiotomy. It is effective for natural and cesarean birth.

An epidural block can have some side effects. It may trigger spinal headaches or cause your blood pressure to drop, which in turn may slow the baby's heartbeat. We take important preventative steps to avoid this problem.

Spinal block

We most often use spinal blocks for cesarean births. A spinal block numbs the lower half of your body and provides good relief from pain. It starts working quickly and is effective in small doses.

A spinal block carries the same possible side effects as an epidural block: Headaches, a drop in your blood pressure and a drop in the baby's heartbeat.

General anesthesia

General anesthetics are medications that cause a loss of consciousness. When used for childbirth, you will not be awake during delivery. We rarely use general anesthesia for routine deliveries, but we may need to use it for an emergency cesarean delivery.

Learn more about obstetrical anesthesia

Download our detailed guide on the various types of anesthesia pain relief for childbirth.

Special considerations for anesthesia use during labor

Some patients have risk factors that affect the use of anesthesia during childbirth. These range from certain types of heart disease, spinal or neurologic conditions, the use of certain medications, to conditions like sleep apnea and obesity. If you have questions or concerns related to your personal health and the use of obstetrical anesthesia, please speak with your doctor or midwife about a referral to our anesthesiology specialists prior to your due date.

Take the next step

Let us help you schedule an appointment, call (800) 436-7936.


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