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Barwon Health / Maternity Services

(03) 4215 2060

Managing pain

Normal labour is painful. But many women find that the techniques mentioned below help them to cope with the pain of labour and to reduce the use of drugs for pain relief. Having encouraging and supportive people caring for you is also very important.

What you can do:

  • Choose your support people carefully.
  • Relax between and during contractions.
  • Take fluids at regular intervals. This helps to prevent dehydration and loss of energy.
  • Try to keep in a positive frame of mind.
  • Use a TENS machine (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation).

Your midwife may suggest that you try different positions as labour progresses. You can try a variety of positions during labour, such as:

  • standing
  • walking
  • lying on your side
  • kneeling
  • leaning on your partner or support person or on a beanbag
  • squatting

You may find it easier to relax if you:

  • have a bath or shower
  • place a warm heat pad over the area where you feel the most pain
  • have someone give you a massage
  • listen to music/use aromatherapy
  • turn off the bright lights in your room
  • use your breathing as a focus
  • use visualisation (positive imagery to assist relaxation)

Pain relief

Nitrous oxide and oxygen

You breathe in this gas through a mouthpiece. It’s a short acting, mild anaesthetic. You can use the gas whenever you wish. It doesn’t harm your baby. Occasionally some women may feel nauseous using this gas.

TENS or Trans-Electrical Nerve Stimulation

The TENS machine is a small, portable, battery-operated device which is worn on the body. The box is attached by wires to sticky pads that are stuck to the skin. Small electrical pulses are transmitted to the body, like little electric shocks. While there is no harm is using a TENS machine, there is not a lot of evidence to show they are effective but some women find them helpful.  Whilst TENS are not available for use at Barwon Health, you can hire them in your local area.

Intradermal water injections for back pain

Many women have lower back pain that persists throughout their labour. Midwives can use a technique involving sterile water injections in the lower back.  Usually injections are given in four different places in your lower back, just beneath the skin. Some points to consider are:

  • The injections cause a strong stinging sensation, like a bee sting.
  • The sting will last for up to 30 seconds before disappearing along with the back pain.
  • The injections can bring up to two hours of pain relief to your lower back but you will still feel the contractions.
  • There are no side effects for you or your baby.

There is still not enough research evidence to show that sterile water injections are effective in reducing the need for other pain relief.


Morphine is an opiate, given by injection to assist with pain relief in labour.  It helps to reduce the severity of the pain, but does not take it away completely.

It’s effectiveness varies from woman to woman, and there are some instances when we cannot administer this medication to you. We will only know this once we have reviewed you and your history.

Unlike an epidural, you do not need to have an intravenous drip, a urinary catheter or CTG monitoring.  Some disadvantages of morphine are:

  • nausea (an anti-nausea drug can be given to combat this side effect)
  • feeling sleepy and or woozy
  • can make your baby sleepy if given close to the time of birth

The timing of morphine administration during your labour is important especially as you approach the actual birth of your baby. Your midwife will discuss this with you

Epidural anaesthetic

This is a local anaesthetic injected into the space around the spinal cord. It must be inserted by an anaesthetist. An effective epidural provides total pain relief from the waist down for as long as necessary. This usually means your ability to move around is limited.

The disadvantages include the possibility of:

  • A longer labour
  • The need for medication to assist with the strength or frequency of your contractions
  • The use of forceps, suction or episiotomy to assist the birth of your baby

You will also have an intravenous drip to prevent your blood pressure dropping and a urinary catheter. Your anaesthetist will discuss any likely problems associated with an epidural


Last Modified: Thursday, 04 November 2021