Before leaving the subject of birth and going on to the newborn, we should discuss an important choice; the choice between natural childbirth and medicated childbirth. Your preparation and decision-making and the course of your labor will differ depending on what you prefer.
Having read the previous discussion of labor, you now have some sense of the physical and emotional events of normal spontaneous labor. It is concern about a tear or labor pain that influences many women to choose to use pain-relieving medication in labor.
The Use of Pain Medications or Anesthesia in Childbirth
Pain medication in childbirth has been used for centuries. Alcohol. Opium, and other drugs have been used, though how extensively is not known.
When using pain medications, you make a trade-off in return for relief of pain and tension and possible speeding up of labor, you accept the side effects on labor progress, your mental and physical well-being, or on your baby. You should balance the advantages and disadvantages as they apply in your situation before using or not using a particular medication.
What are the kinds of medications available, how do they work, and what are their risks and benefits? This section provides an overview that will assist you in discussing the subject with your doctor and making a decision on your preferences.
First of all, the choice of natural and medicated childbirth only exists as long as the labor remains normal. Some interventions are painful or stressful and increase the need for pain medications. If, however, you or your baby requires intervention [such as induction of labor, use of forceps, or cesarean section] for medical reasons, you will need pain medication.
Medication for Early Labor
Because the medications that provide the greatest pain relief also tend to interfere with early labor progress, they cannot be used too early, unless you want to stop labor. There are medications available if a very prolonged and exhausting pre-labor or early labor has caused excessive anxiety and worry. Sedatives or barbiturates [sleeping pills or medication] may help you rest. These are given in pill form or by injection, They may temporarily halt your labor while relaxing you or allowing you some sleep. These drugs reach your baby, who cannot easily excrete them, so it is important not to receive large doses. Because babies born with such drugs still in their bodies may have problems breathing or sucking, your doctor will probably only use small doses and will try to be sure that they have worn off before birth.
Tranquilizers are also used in long pre-labors to reduce muscle tension and anxiety. Some also help if you have severe nausea or vomiting. Depending on the drug chosen, you may feel dizzy and confused, your mouth could feel dry, and your blood pressure altered. These drugs also cross the placenta to the baby and may have effects on fetal heart rate, and newborn muscle tone, suckling and attentiveness.
Morphine, a narcotic, may be used in an attempt to stop a long, non-progressing labor. While it may cause you nausea, dizziness, and confusion, it may also do just what you need-put you to sleep and stop your labor temporarily. Narcotics can linger in the baby and can have some effects on behavior and breathing after birth. The greater the amount of the drug given the greater the effect on the baby.