Safe Medications for Pain Relief During Pregnancy, Labor, and Delivery

Safe Medications for Pain Relief During Pregnancy, Labor, and Delivery

Discomfort often comes along with the different stages of pregnancy but when that discomfort turns into pain, you want to make sure you are using only medications that are safe for pain relief during pregnancy. Fortunately, there are safe painkiller options available both over the counter and by prescription but as we suggest with almost everything related to pregnancy, you should discuss all medications with your OBGYN There are two types of pain relief medications used during labor and delivery: analgesics and anesthetics. Anesthetics relieve pain by blocking most feelings whereas analgesics lessen pain without causing you to lose feeling or muscle movement. These two types of pain relief medications work in one of three ways: 
  • Systemic meaning they affect the whole body and reduce your awareness of pain, having an overall calming effect on the body. 
  • Local which affects a small part of the body.
  • Regional which affects a region of the body, for example, the region below your waist.

Side effects of systemic analgesics

Side effects are relatively minimal and can include drowsiness, itching, nausea, vomiting, or trouble concentrating. They can also affect your baby’s breathing and heart rate for a short time and leave him or her feeling drowsy, which can make it harder to breastfeed in the first hours after birth. For this reason, your OBGYN may restrict you from taking systemic analgesics within a few hours of delivery. 

Local anesthesia used during labor and delivery

Local anesthesia is injected into a particular spot and is meant to prevent pain in a small area of the body. The anesthetic drug is injected into the nerves of the vagina, vulva, and perineum, providing relief from pain in those areas. The drug is administered typically just before delivery to relieve the pain during childbirth.  It’s rare that women see side effects as a result of local anesthesia; some women have had allergic reactions or have experienced nerve or heart problems with a high dosage. It is very rare that local anesthetics will affect the baby.

Regional anesthesia used during labor and delivery

Regional anesthesia and analgesia are used to lessen the pain below the waist. There is the epidural block, spinal block, and combined spinal-epidural block.

What is an epidural block?

An epidural block is the most commonly used type of pain relief used during childbirth. It is a medication that is given through a tube that is placed in the lower back.  For labor and vaginal delivery, a combination of anesthetics and analgesics may be used which will cause some loss of feeling in the lower areas of the body but will allow you to remain awake, alert, and able to push your baby through the birthing canal. For cesarean delivery, the dose of anesthetic may be increased to cause a loss of sensation in the lower half of the body. You will still be able to move with an epidural, but you may not have the ability to walk. 

What is a spinal block?

A spinal block is another form of regional anesthesia. It’s given as a single shot into the fluid around the spinal cord. Although it works to relieve pain quickly, it generally only lasts for about one to two hours, therefore, it’s most commonly used for cesarean delivery. It carries with it the same side effects and risks as an epidural block. 

What is a combined spinal-epidural block?

A CSE block is the final form of regional anesthesia with the same benefits as a spinal block and epidural block. The spinal part provides quick pain relief while the epidural part provides continuous pain relief. A CSE block has the same side effects and risks as previously mentioned.
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