Painless Labor – A Historical First!

Until recently, the laboring patient was the poor stepchild of modern medicine. Pain relief during birth was inadequate, due to concerns of overdosing the fetus through intravenous medication, and depressing the newborn’s breathing.

Birthing classes strove to teach coping mechanisms, which had some success in the highly-focused patient.

How can you relieve pain?

Today, short-term relief through IV medications such as Stadol or Demerol often helps bring the pain of uterine contractions down to the manageable level. Dosing provides some relief for approximately an hour, and can be repeated.

Now, after hundreds of thousands of years of childbearing, labor can finally be done painlessly, due to the development of the epidural block. This involves placement of a very thin tube, or catheter, in the lower back, under one of the membranes covering the spinal canal. Numbing medicine, local anesthetic, is then injected, which bathes the nerves carrying the pain from the uterus. Frequently, only the sensory nerves are blocked, allowing the patient to push effectively for the delivery of the baby.

This epidural procedure differs from the spinal, in that it is more superficial, has a lower risk of headache, and can last up to 12 to 24 hours, for the longer labor.

New, exciting areas of development include the “walking epidural,” which may more selectively block only the sensory nerve fibers. Then the patient may still be able to walk, and enjoy greater mobility during her labor.

This epidural truly is the pain relief that many generations of women have fervently hoped for.


Dr. Patrick Diesfeld, Women’s Health Partnership

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