Question of painless or painful labor was raised only about one and half century back with the advent of anaesthesia in medical sciences. Only three months after Mortonâ€™s historic demonstration of ether as an anaesthetic for the first time in 1846, James Young Simpson anaesthetized a woman with ether for childbirth. Queen Victoria unable to tolerate labor pain wanted anaesthetic. First lady anaesthetised for labor in United States was Fanny Longfellow wife of famous American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. She wrote- “This is certainly the greatest blessing of this age.”
But certainly the acceptance of painless labor starting from its early age to its adulthood in modern times has never been so easy in different social classes. Like the earlier times when British clergymen argued that painless labor is a sin against the will of God who has made the childbirth painful; a few modern experts opine that labor pain makes a good bondage between mother and child. The reasons of controversies in this issue are several. Those who do not like pain-free childbirth have the following excuses. Firstly, the childbirth is a natural process, which should not be disturbed. Secondly, the mother should cherish the joy of motherhood at the time of delivery and so no pain should be felt. Thirdly, pain is a psychologically regulated subjective feeling and proper antenatal education and relaxation may give painless childbirth. Fourthly, as mentioned earlier, labor pain makes a good bondage between mother and child. Fifthly, every medication has some side effects, which should be avoided.
Coming to the point of safety, every drugs has some form of side effects, even simple paracetamol may kill a patient. The percentage of serious side effects is more important. Ether, which was used in earlier days for painless labor is now obsolete as better options with fewer side effects are now available.
Few of the accepted methods of labor pain management are:
1) Analgesics (painkiller drugs)- Morphine group of drugs are only effective but used mainly in earlier stages when the pain is not so intense. It has serious side effects on baby, so used rarely.
2) Oxygen and nitrous oxide mixture- this mixture is inhaled to get rid of pain. It is very safe to both mother and baby, but not very effective, good amount of pain persists.
3) Other methods (TENS etc.): not so effective.
4) Epidural analgesia, combine spinal and epidural analgesia: It is the most effective, most safe for both mother and baby and so, most widely used all over the world. More than 85% of expected mother prefers this method at present days and available since 1960s. A fine catheter (tube) is introduced in the back between two lumber vertebrae in a space called epidural space, which lies immediately outside the outermost layer of the spinal cord (There are three layers or membranes which cover and protect spinal cord.). Diluted anaesthetic drug mixed with other drugs is introduced via the indwelling catheter and there is very good pain relieve. Some ambulatory pump introduces the drugs continuously. Here only the pain sensation of abdomen and lower limb goes away. The patient is fully conscious, can move her legs and most of the other sensations are present.