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Even though epidurals are a very effective way to control pain during labor (though that does not mean they relieve suffering or anxiety), nearly 16% of epidurals are not effective.  Sometimes women cannot even get them before their baby is born.  Here are a few suggestions discussing coping with labor pain when you were expecting an epidural.

1. Even if you are planning on an epidural, a doula has many benefits.

2. If you ever find yourself in a position where your epidural isn’t working, you are waiting to get to the hospital, or your waiting for an epidural, the quicker you accept you are in pain and will be in pain, the better.  Frustration, anger, or ill-will, will only prolong pain.

This is easier said than done.  Ideally you should go into labor knowing things may not go as expected and plan for that.  Letting go of negative feelings is easier if you come prepared.

3. Water and heat are your friends.  People often refer to hot baths as a midwife’s epidural.  While the pain does not completely go away, water definitely decreases sensations of pain and allows you to cope with labor pain better.  If you can, hop in the shower or bath.  In addition, using heat on your abdomen or lower back is helpful.  If you are at home, get an old sock, fill with rice, and microwave it.  Then have someone else place the rice sock on your lower back and push on it during a contraction.
4. Deep breathing is also a great help.  There are many ways to work breathing into your labor, but a few of them take more practice.  As you breath deeply, focus more on the breath than the contraction and as you breathe out focus on relaxing your face, arm, and leg muscles.
5. DO NOT give birth on your back.  The pain you experience will increase if you are on your back.  It may sound weird or awkward to give birth in any other position, but laboring on the back tends to be more painful.
5. Get someone who has birthed without medication with you.  Someone that has been through natural birth can help by telling you if what you experience is normal or not.  They can talk you through contractions while someone else is rushing around trying to get the needle in the right place, or call the paramedics.
Ok, that’s the down and dirty on emergency pain control.  It won’t take it away, but these ideas will allow you to cope with your labor pains instead of fighting them, which makes the whole situation much worse.  And remember women have been doing this for thousands of years, you can do it.  It’s not even about who is strong enough or not, sometimes you just have to.  Hopefully this can help make it the best possible situation it can be.
Additional resources you might find useful:

Anim-Somuah M, Smyth R, Jones L. Epidural versus non-epidural or no analgesia in labour. Cochrane Database Sys Rev 2011; (12): CD000331.

Agaram, R. (2009). Inadequate pain relief with labor epidurals: a multivariate analysis of associated factors.  Int J Obstet Anesth. 2009 Jan;18(1)

Follow Rachel Leavitt:

Rachel has worked as a register nurse (BSN from University of Utah) since 2004 with a work history in Labor and Delivery, NICU and Postpartum Care. She is also the founder of New Beginnings Doula Training which she organized in 2011. When she's not busy being a mother and grandmother, she can be found reading research papers related to some aspect of childbirth.

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