Using Drugs During Labor and Delivery

Suggested lead: For many years, pregnant women have had the option of childbirth with or without drugs designed to alleviate the pain. Figures show most women still choose the option of as little pain as possible. Tom Britt has more.

A new study shows that most women rank the pain of childbirth just below the pain of having a finger cut off. Although "natural" childbirth was once fairly popular, most women still choose local anesthesia. Dr. Elizabeth Bell is an anesthesiologist at Duke University Medical Center and the mother of three children. Bell says her first delivery was "natural," but she says the pain prevented her from being in control, so for the next two deliveries she took advantage of what was offered to cut the pain.

"Pain is not something that people normally seek out. There are not many other areas of life where we think that it's a virtuous thing to suffer severe pain that can be easily ameliorated. And then if you ask for relief of suffering to be looked down upon. That's a pretty unusual situation."

Dr. Bell says modern obstetric anesthesia prevents the pain, while allowing the mother to feel pressure so she knows when to push, allowing her to keep a clear head so she can experience the childbirth while remaining in control. I'm Tom Britt.

Dr. Bell says 20 years ago, many women complained that the anesthesia left their legs feeling wooden and left them too groggy to experience the delivery. Bell says that has changed.

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"Over the past ten years there's been a real revolution in obstetric anesthesia such that most of the doses that are used currently allow the woman to feel pressure and know when to push, and again are very low concentrations, so they allow the mother to have a clear head."