Pain Management

Pain management in labor is a personal choice that varies considerably with each individual, and is best implemented as shared clinical decision-making between a mother, her family, and care providers. Some mothers may be resolved to deliver their babies through a medication-free ‘natural’ childbirth process; some may be particularly sensitive to pain and know that they will require medication to get through the experience. Others may plan to deliver medication-free, but during delivery may discover that the length or intensity of their labor results in more pain than anticipated, or that unforeseen complications arise for which administration of pain medication is indicated. Cooley Dickinson’s Childbirth Center physicians, certified nurse midwives, and nurses are experienced guides who can help mothers navigate a whole spectrum of options from non-medical breathing and visualization techniques to epidural anesthesia which can all manage pain—there is no wrong way to have a baby.

Preparation and Support

Pain management begins with caring for yourself during your pregnancy. Exercise, good nutrition, and stretching are all good ways to prepare for birth. Support can also be crucial—research shows that a skilled/educated labor support person decreases the need for pain medication and caesarian delivery. Some people work closely with doulas or midwives, while others rely on partners, family, or close friends. Nurses at the Cooley Dickinson Childbirth Center are also trained in labor support and pain relief techniques. Take some time prenatally to plan ahead.

In Labor

In early labor, we encourage women to stay at home as long as they feel comfortable and it is medically safe—pets, sounds and other familiar surroundings can go a long way toward easing initial discomfort. In active labor, there are many options for addressing pain and discomfort, including the following:

Non-medical pain management options

  • Massage
  • Warm/cold compresses, ice chips
  • Walking/Position change
  • Rocking (in a chair or on a bed)
  • Hydrotherapy (in the tub or shower)
  • Breathing/moaning, sound
  • Visualization
  • Hypnobirthing
  • Music
  • Distraction
  • Birthing balls
  • Encouragement/reassurance/touch from support people

Medical pain management options

  • Nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”)
  • Medications through IV or by injection
  • Epidural anesthesia

Will Medication During Labor Affect My Baby?

All of the options that Cooley Dickinson offers for childbirth pain control are safe for your baby. Whether you choose mild pain relief medications like nitrous oxide, injected or IV-administered narcotics or more broad-scoped numbing options such as epidural anesthesia, your providers will never allow you to receive a level of medication that is unsafe for you or your baby. If you are someone giving birth under exceptional circumstances involving other medical needs or conditions, consult with your providers regarding the risks and benefits of pain medication which may have particular bearing on your personal situation.

Mother playing with baby, Cooley Dickinson Hospital, 30 Locust Street, Northampton, MA 01060.

Pain Management Resources

Browse our library of pain management resources for further information on pain medications and pain management tools.

En Español: