Pain relief

It is difficult to know, before labour starts, what pain relief will be best for you.

Your community midwife and the midwife caring for you in labour can give you some information about the options available. These include:

  • Self-help – calm breathing, relaxation, massage.
  • Use of water – the use of water (hydrotherapy) has been shown to relieve the pain associated with labour. You can use a birthing pool at home and we have a pool at each hospital site which you can use if it is available when you arrive at the delivery suite. Please check when you telephone.
  • Complimentary Therapies – advice about the use of complementary therapies, e.g. aromatherapy, reflexology, hypnosis and acupuncture can be sought from a person trained in each particular therapy.
  • TENS – TENS is a system that passes a gentle electrical current through the nerves in your back. It can be particularly helpful for backache in the early stages of labour. These can be hired for a small fee from numerous outlets.
  • Entonox (gas and air) – this is inhaled through a mask or mouthpiece. It may make you feel lightheaded and sometimes a little sick for a short time. It does not harm your baby and can be used at any time during labour and if in the birthing pool.
  • Epidural – an epidural is carried out by an anaesthetist (a doctor specially trained to provide pain relief and drugs that make you go to sleep).  Painkillers are given through a small tube (catheter) inserted into your lower back near the nerves in your spine.  It may take up to 40 minutes for this type of painkiller to numb the nerves associated with the pain experienced in childbirth.  Most women can have an epidural if they wish, but certain medical problems (spina bifida, previous surgery on your back or problems with blood clotting) may mean it is unsuitable for you.
  • Opioids: morphine-like painkillers – Opioids include painkillers such as pethidine, as well as diamorphine All these morphine-like painkillers act in a similar way. Your midwife will be able to give you the Pethidine or diamorphine by injecting the opioid into a large muscle in your arm or leg. Every woman is different on how long the pain relief will last for, you can start to feel the effects within about half an hour and may last a few hours. Side effects – Opioids can often make you feel sleepy and a little nauseated and sometimes sick, we can however give you antisickness medication to help avoid this. Your midwife will discuss the full side effects with you at any time if you have any questions.


Water birth pools are offered at both Conquest Hospital Maternity Unit and Eastbourne Midwifery Unit.

Water birth has been shown to improve relaxation and calmness in labour. Because of the extra buoyancy the water gives you, it is easier to move around and get comfortable. Stress hormones such as adrenaline have been shown to be reduced in water, allowing an increase of endorphins, which help your labour progress. The midwife caring for you in labour will offer to carry out regular observation of you and your baby and will support you throughout your labour and birth.

The Water Birth suite at Conquest Hospital has recently undergone refurbishment. It is now a calming, comfortable space, with a beautiful view!

Water birth is not appropriate for all women, if you think you would like a water birth, please discuss this with your community midwife or the midwife caring for you in labour.

Obstetric Anaesthetists' Association