Category Archives: labor pain

Wallet Cards for Birth Classes

Long ago, I made small cards of the Key Questions for Informed Choice that I gave to students to keep in their wallets as a reminder. Recently, someone asked me for a copy of the file so they could print their own, and I discovered I had mis-placed it.

So, today, I created some new wallet cards, that you are welcome to use with doula clients, childbirth education students, or whoever would find them helpful.

Key Questions for Informed Choice

card listing key questions - benefits, risks, alternatives, timing

This file contains two versions of the key questions. Refer your clients to podcast episode 8 (or its transcript) to learn more about maternity care choices.

To learn more about how I teach clients the questions and how to weigh those against their personal goals and values, read about Teaching Decision Making.

Labor Comfort Techniques Reminder Card

labor comfort techniques card

I already had a two-page cheat sheet Guide to Labor Support. I created a comfort techniques wallet card to accompany it. Your clients can find the full Guide on the transcript of podcast episode 1 on Your Toolbox for Coping with Labor Pain.

There is more on the 3R’s in my episode on the Stages of Labor.

Visual Reminder of Comfort Techniques

comfort technique reminder card

If you feel like that first card is too wordy, and want something more visual, check out my visual comfort cards. These are not intended to stand alone. They would be best as reminders of concepts and techniques that you taught them, or that they can find in episode 4 – comfort techniques for labor. (The transcript for the episode includes a printable 2 page handout on these techniques.)

Printing the Cards

You could easily print these on paper or cardstock and cut them apart by hand.

I print my own nametags, so I always have “Name Badge Insert Refills” on hand, so I designed them to print on those. (They would also print on any of these products: 74461, 74549 or these Amazon brand cards. Note, those links are affiliate links, and I get a small referral fee from Amazon if you purchase after clicking on those links.)  These can easily be broken apart to create nice professional looking wallet size cards you can share.

Comfort Techniques for Labor

Learn comfort techniques and learn why they work. Cognitive strategies include education, visualization, affirmations, and choosing to view pain as a positive sign of labor progress. Gate Control techniques work by focusing  your attention on something pleasant (like music, a beautiful view or aromatherapy) instead of focusing on the labor pain – this blocks pain signals from reaching the brain, so you’ll experience less pain. Counter-irritants include things like biting your lip – a pain you control – to help make the pain you can’t control feel more manageable. And body mechanics involves using position, movement and massage to encourage baby to move into the best position to help labor to progress and be less painful. Here’s a printable handout that summarizes comfort techniques for labor.

[Transcription of episode and checklist of comfort measures available at https://transitiontoparenthood.wordpress.com/for-parents/labor-and-birth/comfort-techniques-for-labor/]

Stages of Labor and the 3R’s

An overview of the stages of labor and comfort techniques for the first stage of labor: Early labor, as the cervix moves from 0 to 5 cm dilated is the longest phase of labor, but also the least intense. The focus is on Relaxation, so techniques like slow deep breathing visualization, massages and baths all help. In active labor as the cervix goes from 5 to 8 cm, contractions are longer, stronger, and closer together and take more work to cope with. The focus is on Rhythm, so rhythmic breathing helps, as does movement such as walking, slow dancing, or rocking on a birth ball or in a rocking chair. In transition, as the cervix dilates to 10 cm, contractions are coming hard and fast and it can be very overwhelming. So, the focus is Ritual – find something that works to reduce pain, and just keep doing it on every contraction to help feel like there’s some control over the process. [Transcript of podcast episode 3 at: https://transitiontoparenthood.wordpress.com/for-parents/labor-and-birth/]

Understanding Labor Pain

I discuss the physiology of pain and ways that people who have been through birth  describe how contractions feel. Given all of the physical changes and challenges of labor, it’s not surprising it is painful for many people. The acronym P.A.I.N. can remind us that labor pain is Purposeful, Anticipated, Intermittent, and Normal. However, understanding what factors make that pain worse than it has to be helps us learn how to reduce it. The Fear Tension Pain Triangle theory tells us that when we’re fearful, we tense up. As we tense, the pain increases, which frightens us more…. the fear increases, and so on. Instead, we want to explore ways to shift this to the Confidence Relaxation Comfort Triangle to make labor more manageable. [Transcript of podcast episode.]

Labor Pain Toolbox

Podcast Episode 1: The most common question from people preparing for labor is ‘how will we handle the pain’? This episode provides an overview of all the tools that we can stock in a Toolbox for Coping with Labor Pain. It introduces both non-drug comfort techniques and pain medications, explores how the choice of pain coping techniques influences the whole experience of labor, and discusses the Pain Medication Preference Scale, a helpful tool for clarifying and summarizing priorities related to pain medication. Knowing someone’s preference helps to guide the labor support team in how to support them through the challenges of labor. Learn about all these tools by listening to more episodes of this podcast, or by reading Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn.

[Transcript of this episode, with links to more info.]

Nitrous Oxide for Labor Pain

Nitrous oxide (also called “laughing gas” or “gas and air”) has long been in common use for labor pain in other countries, being used by more than half of laboring women in such countries as England, Finland, Sweden, and Canada. It has not been common in the United States in recent decades (it was only available at 5 hospitals in 2012); however, its popularity is now increasing as equipment becomes more widely available, and may soon be seen in more hospitals and out of hospital birth centers. This online article is intended as a supplement to chapter 13 of the 2016 edition of Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn which does not cover nitrous oxide.

How Administered

Nitrous oxide is a gas. It is mixed 50/50 with oxygen, and inhaled through a mask. (Note: If you’ve had nitrous at the dentist, that’s a 70/30 or 80/20 mixture. So the dose given in labor is lower than the dose at dental procedures, and has a milder effect.) The laboring mother holds the mask to her face whenever she wants a dose. The gas only flows when she inhales. When she moves the mask away, the medication stops. (To see what the equipment looks like in use, do an online image search for “nitrous oxide in labor.”)

The peak pain relief effect kicks in about 50 seconds after you start inhaling. But the peak intensity of contraction pain tends to be 25 – 45 seconds into a contraction. That means you need to start inhaling 30 seconds BEFORE the next contraction is expected so the gas is in full effect when the contraction pain peaks. It can be tricky to get timing just right.

Benefits

Nitrous oxide stimulates the brain to release endorphins and dopamine, hormones that help to reduce pain. Nitrous oxide does not completely relieve labor pain, but women are less bothered by the pain. It reduces anxiety, and can cause a mildly euphoric feeling. Women describe themselves as feeling relaxed and calm while using it. Women report that they liked the fact that they had control over the administration. (To learn more about the laboring person’s experience of nitrous, watch this video from Vanderbilt at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lPyuerAoKg8)

Other benefits are that it’s inexpensive (at some hospitals, there’s no extra charge – it’s included in room cost), it takes effect quickly, and if you stop using it, the effects fade quickly (it has a half-life of 3 minutes) rather than remaining in your system for a long time. That means that if you decide nitrous does not provide enough pain relief, it’s easy to move on to other options, such as epidural analgesia.

Effectiveness

One study (Pasha, 2012) found that 92% of women had less pain with nitrous than without. They were also less likely to have severe pain. On nitrous, 41% reported severe pain and 10% reported very severe pain. In the no-nitrous group, 55% had severe pain and 27% had very severe pain.

It’s important to note that nitrous oxide is a mild pain reliever. You should not expect it to take away all your pain. An epidural is much more effective at that; however, an epidural also has more tradeoffs and side effects, so you may choose to start with nitrous and see if that offers enough relief. Some nurses describe the choice to have nitrous as “why not try it and see if it helps.”

Rather than thinking of nitrous as pain relief, it may help to think of it as a ‘coping boost.’ One study showed that it did not reduce the intensity of pain much (as measured on a visual analog pain scale), but after the study period, when given the option to stop using it, women wanted to continue using it anyway. (Carstinou, 1994) The unpleasantness of the pain was reduced, and seemed more manageable. Another study found that 98% of users were satisfied with the experience of using nitrous oxide. (Pasha, 2012) Studies also show that women say they would use it again in a subsequent labor.

Tradeoffs

Unlike epidural analgesia, nitrous does not require extra procedures or extra monitoring. You will not need an IV or continuous fetal monitoring. You are also able to stand, move, and change positions. (If the oxygen comes from a portable tank, you can move around with it, but if the oxygen is piped in from the wall, you’ll need to stay near the bed.)

Possible Side Effects

Side effects on mother and baby are minimal, and less than those experienced with epidural analgesia and with IV / IM narcotics. They can include nausea, dizziness, drowsiness and a hazy memory of events. There is a small chance you could lose consciousness, but if you do, you drop the mask away from your face, and quickly recover. Nitrous does not slow labor and does not affect your ability to push. It does not appear to affect baby at birth. The portable pump is loud, but nurses report this does not seem to bother the user.

Nitrous is contra-indicated if you have persistent anemia / vitamin b12 deficiency.

Timing in Labor

Can be used at any time in labor, except you cannot have nitrous if you have had narcotics in the past two hours. You must wait for them to wear off.

Some cases where it might be especially helpful: during transition, during anxiety provoking procedures (such as vaginal exams, IV starts, stitches for a tear), for women who arrive at the hospital in heavy labor and need quick relief, and at any time by someone who wants to delay getting an epidural. Birth center midwives also report using it when a mom is considering a transfer to the hospital for pain medication. Anecdotally, they say that about half the time it has allowed the client to remain at the birth center.

Comparison to Other Methods

On page 211 – 212 of the book, we offer a chart called “Nonmedicated Labor versus Medicated Labor” that compares what labor is like if no pain medications are used, or if IV narcotics or epidural analgesia are used. Here is that same information for nitrous oxide, so you can easily compare and contrast to the other options.

Pain-Relief Option Used Nitrous Oxide
How it affects your experience of pain Increases pain-relieving endorphins, eases anxiety or fear, and enhances your mood. Small decrease in pain intensity, but makes pain less unpleasant. Can boost your ability to cope.
Feedback from women who used it “Labor was still intense, but it took my fear away and helped me calm down. It made it seem like coping with the pain was doable.”
How it affects your mental state You’re relaxed, calm, may be drowsy or light-headed.
How it affects your mobility You can walk, move around and change positions. If the equipment is hooked up to the wall (rather than being on a mobile cart), you will have to stay close to the bed.
What you’ll need from your support people You’ll still be experiencing pain (though you’ll be less distressed by it). You’ll still want support with comfort techniques and emotional support. Also, they can tell you when a contraction is about to start so you can begin inhaling. (Nitrous oxide is most effective if you start 30 seconds before the contraction.)
Equipment and precautions required You’ll hold the mask that dispenses the nitrous, inhaling from it as desired. Some women need an oxygen sensor on their fingers.
Impact on labor progress Does not affect labor progress.
Timing Can be used at any time, especially during anxiety provoking times in labor.
Availability Very limited availability in the U.S.
Possible risks to you Minimal. (See above.)
Possible risks to baby No apparent risks
Cost Inexpensive
Best option for you if… You just need a little boost to your ability to cope, or need to reduce your anxiety.

For more information:

Source for study data cited: Pasha, et al. Maternal expectations and experiences of labor analgesia with nitrous oxide. Iran Red Crescent Medical Journal, 2012. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3587869/