Epidural or au naturel? Before you decide on which method is in your corner, read this...
If you are trying to choose between pain relief options for your upcoming delivery, the UK's Cochrane Collaboration, a research review group, has information moms-to-be may want to use as part of their decision-making process.
After examining over 300 studies on the topic of pain management during childbirth, Cochrane researchers found that when it comes to picking a pain relief method with ample evidence to back up its effectiveness, epidurals earn their status as the pain relief "gold standard." With so many studies evaluating how they perform during labor and delivery, epidurals fall under the "category of 'what works'," writes researchers. However, studies also document possible side effects associated with epidural use, including the difficulty for some moms to move around shortly after birth.
As for natural pain relief, researchers uncovered very few studies—and far less evidence—that could make the case that water birth, focused breathing and relaxation techniques, acupuncture, and massage can be reliably counted on when contractions strike. Based on what they found, researchers classed these interventions as "may work." On the other hand, researchers also note that there were very few side effects connected to using natural methods.
So which one is better? And more importantly, what type of pain relief is going to help you?
According to lead author of the study, James Neilson of the Department of Women's and Children's Health at the University of Liverpool in Liverpool, UK, there is truly no one-size-fits-all option when it comes to labor pain relief. But, he says encouraging moms-to-be to try a low-risk, drug-free approach first makes sense.
"I think there is a lot to be said for starting with simple methods and then working up if necessary," advises Neilson (via Reuters Health). "Clearly there is a lot of variation in the amount of pain that women experience during labor … It remains important to tailor approaches to women's individual needs and circumstances."
Whatever you ultimately decide, it's good to have a plan in place with your OB or midwife before labor begins. You can always change your mind, but talking this over now is a good conversation starter about the kind of birth experience you want to have.