Childbirth is an intense experience for any woman, and it is undeniable that it is an extremely painful time. It can be a positive or a negative time for a woman, however, depending on how her labour progresses and how it is handled.
The pain levels reported during the different stages of labour vary widely and so other factors such as fear, how knowledgeable a woman is and the support she has available to her may have a significant impact on how she copes with the pain. Maternity hospitals openly encourage women to remain mobile for as long as possible, to take hot showers and to use bouncy balls to help cope with pain, but they are also quick to offer analgesic pain relief in the form of epidurals and pethidene. For this reason, statistics available from the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street show that the percentage of women having completely natural, “normal” births for their first baby can be as low as 4%. There are other alternative forms of pain relief available, which may help women who are reluctant to introduce medicinal options.
A TENS (Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machine uses electric current produced by a device to stimulate the nerves for the purpose of providing pain relief. The unit is usually connected to the skin on the lower back during labour using two or more electrodes and is typically battery operated. It is non-invasive, and works by suppressing the pain signals in the brain. There are a significant number of TENS machines specifically to cope with labour pains, and some can even track the duration and distance between contractions. The machines are widely available to rent or buy but unfortunately there is little evidence of their effectiveness. A study done by the University of Oxford said that TENS machines have “shown not to be effective in postoperative and labour pain”. According to Mairead Murphy, a lactation consultant from Meath, although she used a TENS machine for 4 labours, “it was the little tips like making low guttural noises, and asking my hubby to make a fist and push into my lower back that really helped”.
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