I’m always really upfront in my classes with the fact that hypnobirthing does NOT promise to eradicate pain in labour. It will absolutely help to minimise it, but to tell you it’s likely to remove it would be a lie.
A lie which would lead to you feeling like you can’t possibly have tried hard enough, practiced often enough, or wanted it hard enough – which simply isn’t true! In reality there are a small percentage of women who will experience a pain free labour regardless of the birth prep they have undertaken, but for most of us (even with brilliant birth prep!) there will be some discomfort at points. It’s completely normal, safe, and for some women manageable, to experience these sensations without pain relief. For others they will want to choose a pharmaceutical analgesic, a decision which may be made before labour begins, or at some point during.
I have to point out that any intense sensations you feel are not felt for the duration of labour – remember your surges come and go with wide spaces at least initially, and during those breaks you feel completely normal and comfortable. Many women say it is only towards the end that the sensations became uncomfortable. For some women non-pharmaceutical support provides enough relief, for others maybe it doesn’t. it doesn’t make some women stronger or weaker, it doesn’t mean one birth is better than another, it just means these women are choosing to take what they need when they need it.
So, is it still a hypnobirth if you choose to give birth with pain relief? Of course it bloody is!!
A hypnobirth isn’t a neatly shaped box for you to wedge yourself and your growing bump in to. It’s a state of mind, an approach, a method of support and coping. It’s about knowing you have a metaphorical box full of tools and techniques designed to help you with getting informed, working with your birth partner and care team, getting into a state of deep relaxation, focussing your attention inwards, increasing your natural morphine like pain killers (endorphins – they’re amazing! There is evidence to show they can be 200x stronger than morphine!) and making decisions from a place of information and empowerment.
If the right choice for you is asking for pain relief when you know the benefits, risks and what YOU want your birth to look like, I’d say that’s a shining example of a fabulous hypnobirth!! It’s a mother standing in her power, making autonomous decisions, allowing flexibility in the birth plan, and shaping her birth perfectly for her. It’s exactly what I want for all of my clients.
So what do you need to know about pain relief in labour ready to make this decision? Let’s have a look at some of the pros and cons of the most common options:
Entonox (aka Gas & Air) – is within your control as you decide when to breathe it in, and for how long. It’s fast acting and wears off quickly too which is great if you decide you don’t like the feeling at any point. It’s unlikely to take away pain entirely but can take the edge off, making it feel more manageable. You and baby do not need any extra monitoring unlike with some other options, and you can use it whilst in a birth pool too. You may not enjoy some aspects of the effects though, its common for mums to experience a dry mouth/lips, dizziness, nausea or sickness or to feel disoriented. It’s available in all birth locations including home where midwives will provide canisters or hospital / midwifery units where it is usually ‘plumbed in’ to the walls.
Pethidine / Oramorph – A stronger and more effective pain relief administered either by injection (usually into a thigh) or orally, it’s fast acting and effective for approx. 2-4 hours – for that reason it is not usually recommended close to baby’s arrival as it as it crosses the placenta & can have a negative effect on them after birth. If labour has been going for a longer period of time, and you know you need to relax and get some rest, it can be a helpful option to consider as it can make you feel drowsy and relaxed. It can make you feel nauseous or vomit, so it is usually administered alongside and anti-sickness medication. If you have opioid drugs close to baby’s birth it is more likely to impact upon their breathing after they are born making it harder for them to transition to the outside world, they may also find feeding harder and are likely to be sleepier meaning you’ll have to be more conscious of ensuring they are woken to feed regularly, these effects may last 24-48 hours. You can access opioids in hospital and midwife led units, it is available at home in some areas but not all.
Epidural – the most well known pain relief option for during labour. It needs to be administered by an anaesthetist so is only available in hospital, a thin tube is inserted into your back for local anaesthetic to be administered through. The upside is that when it works well, it gives the most effective relief from pain or discomfort usually removing all pain. It doesn’t usually make women feel sleepy, nauseous or confused either so women can feel more calm and in control. Depending on the type of epidural you have, you may be more or less able to move about and get into different positions to facilitate baby’s descent – if you ensure any additional drips / wires are all attached to the same side it will make it easier to get up and move if you can. It’s likely you’ll be advised to have a drip for fluids, and any other medicines, to be administered whilst the epidural is in place, as well as regular blood pressure check and monitoring of baby – often this is done with CTG continuous wired monitoring, though sometimes intermittent or wireless monitoring are an option. There’s a chance the pain relief provided will be patchy or ineffective (around 1 in 10) and they may offer to try again. It can cause your legs to feel numb making it harder to push effectively, and pass urine which can result in the need for a catheter, you are also more likely to need an assisted delivery (forceps / ventouse) for the same reason. It is also linked to bad headaches for a while after the birth around 1% of the time.
You also have various non-medical options available to you which I’d advise exploring and starting at the bottom then working your way up if / when needed. These include TENs machines, aromatherapy, breathing techniques, massage or counter pressure, and water immersion.
If you want to learn more about the many ways you can get prepared for birth, learn more about your pain relief options, or get your birth partner ready to support you in the way you want, check out our group and private antenatal hypnobirthing courses in Southend. Get in touch if you want more info about the course, dates, or payment plans – firstname.lastname@example.org
Remember… it’s your hypnobirth, so do it your way!