Women who take drugs throughout their labour experience better pain relief than those who seek alternative therapy, like massages, TENS machine and hypnosis, new research suggests.
Researchers from Liverpool, Warwick and Manchester University investigated various pain relief methods and how effective they were during childbirth.
The study discovered that painkillers, such as an epidural, combined spinal epidural (CSE) and gas and air, was more effective in easing labour pains than softer approaches like hypnosis and using a TENS machine.
Despite claiming that relaxation interventions (like acupuncture, being immersed in water and having controlled breathing) “could work” with fewer adverse effects, they believe that drugs worked best at relieving pain.
The experts claim they found “insufficient evidence” on whether hypno birthing, sterile water injections, aromatherapy, TENS machine or opioids, such as pethidine, had a significant effect on reducing pain during labour.
However, despite the evidence that drug intervention having better pain relieving qualities, researchers added that these aren’t without their side effects.
Although epidural, gas and air best managed pain in labour, women were more likely to have an assisted delivery, such as forceps or ventouse (a suction cap which pulls the baby out). This can lead to a higher risk of vaginal tearing or having to have an episiotomy (where the vagina is cut open to make way for the baby).
Women using gas and air also had a higher risk of vomiting, feeling nauseous and dizzy and pethidine made women feel drowsy.
Talking about their findings, a spokesperson from the Cochrane Collaboration study said in a statement: "Overall, women should feel free to choose whatever pain management they feel would help them most during labour.
"Women who choose non-drug pain management should feel free, if needed, to move on to a drug intervention.
"During pregnancy, women should be told about the benefits and potential adverse effects on themselves and their babies of the different methods of pain control.
"Individual studies showed considerable variation in how outcomes such as pain intensity were measured and some important outcomes were rarely or never included - for example, sense of control in labour, breastfeeding, mother and baby interaction, costs and infant outcomes.
"Further research is needed on the non-drug interventions for pain management in labour."
Adding to this, Peter Brocklehurst from the Institute for Women’s Health, at the University College London, told the Press Association: "This important 'review of reviews' clearly shows that many methods of pain relief in labour, particularly non-drug methods such as massage and immersion in water, are not well researched.
"For example, we have good evidence about how effective epidurals are, but we also know they have problems, including an increased risk of forceps and ventouse births.
"On the other hand, when it comes to many other, non-drug interventions such as massage and TENS, the evidence base is much poorer.
"This does not mean that these methods don't work - just that we don't know whether they do or do not work because the research needed to know this has not been done.
"Altogether this means that women may be using methods which are not effective, or being denied methods which are effective and which may improve their labour without them having to use epidurals."
If you don't want to go down the drug route, here are a list of complementary therapies which can make childbirth easier:
This technique uses small needles which are placed on the body's essential pressure points. These help boost blood and Qi energy (life energy) to vital organs. Pregnant women can use acupuncture to ease morning sickness, tiredness, anxiety and depression as it helps restore the body's natural hormone level. Acupuncture can help labour pains as it helps the mother feel calm leading up the birth. Thinking of trying acupuncture in pregnancy? Read this first.
This works in a similar way to acupuncture but instead of focusing on all pressure points, this works on the pressure points in the feet. Many women use this during pregnancy to reduce aches and pains and in labour, it can be useful if contractions stop or of the placenta is stuck. All you need to know on reflexology in pregnancy.
The best benefits of pregnancy yoga is that it keeps the body supple without strain, boost energy levels, relieves stress and anxiety and helps aid sleep. It also helps strengthen pelvic floor muscles and back pain, which aids an easier labour when the time comes. For more details on yoga in pregnancy, take a look here.
It isn't all about putting the mother into a trance-like state during labour, but instead it focuses on the mother's breathing technique. Similar to yogic breathing, these focus is on slow inhalations and exhalations, as well as visualisation techniques. The key is regulating deep breathing (as opposed to panting during labour) and is believed to help mothers 'breathe' their baby out during labour. For more details of hypnosis and birth, take a look here.
Combining yoga and tai chi, this technique helps mums-to-be tune into their birthing fears, rather than block them out, using visualisation techniques. This means that the mother should be able to 'ride' the sensations of birth rather than anticipating and struggling through them. To find out more about this technique, visit Lazy Daisy.