How a Dad Can Help His Partner Cope with Labor Pain

By Mathew Miller, Sharon Perkins

Although you and your partner discussed pain medication options during the pregnancy, nothing is written in stone on the day you become a dad, when labor starts.

A staunch au naturel supporter may find herself asking for an epidural the minute she hits the labor floor, and a woman who was sure she’s epidural material may find herself breathing through labor and deciding she’d rather do without one. Don’t ever be surprised by the decisions of a laboring woman.

Basics of your partner’s choice of unmedicated labor

Going unmedicated was all the rage in the 1970s but fell out of favor when epidural anesthesia became available in all but the smallest hospitals. Unmedicated delivery still does have some advantages, and there are good reasons to consider it. Your partner may decide to go unmedicated for the following reasons:

  • Babies whose moms haven’t received medication may be more alert and may nurse better. Medication does cross the placenta to the fetus before delivery.

  • Moving around during labor is easier if you’re not medicated. Epidural anesthesia usually keeps you in bed, although “walking epidurals” are offered by some centers.

  • Pushing is easier without an epidural, although some centers let an epidural wear down enough for mom to be able to push.

  • Water therapy can’t be utilized if you have epidural anesthesia.

  • Going through labor unmedicated can be an empowering experience.

  • Some women have bad reactions to medications in general and don’t want to take anything they don’t really need.

One good thing about going unmedicated is that with a first labor, it’s almost never too late to change your mind and request an epidural. If your partner decides she wants an epidural at 9 centimeters, in many centers, she can have one.

Basics of sedation for your partner (no, not for you)

Sedation takes the edge off labor without numbing the lower part of the body. Typical sedatives given in labor include Demerol, Nubain, or Stadol, which can be given intramuscularly or intravenously. IV administration takes effect quickly and lasts one to two hours.

Sedation may be given if it’s too early in the labor to give epidural anesthesia. Sedation can take the edge off the pain and help your partner get a little sleep, but it can also slow contractions in some cases.

Because sedation can reach the baby, narcotics and narcotic-type medications aren’t often given if delivery is expected within the hour because the baby may not breathe well.