Pain Relief During Labor and Delivery

We provide comfort and care during routine and complex labor and delivery, one of the most important experiences in your life. Whether you have selected an unmedicated birth or you’re interested in pain relief options, we’ve got you covered.

Your labor (and each labor!) is unique so the amount of pain you will experience varies depending on your pelvic dimensions, your baby’s size and position, the contractions and other experiences and expectations.

You will probably be thinking about your pain relief options before active labor and delivery begin. Many women know what they would like to receive well before delivery day, but for others it might take some time to consider the options. If necessary, you can meet to discuss your care with OB anesthesiologists or other care providers before labor and delivery.

We are committed to you with around-the-clock care on the labor and delivery floor.

Meeting Your Anesthesiologist


You will definitely be meeting an anesthesiologist on delivery day and he or she will remain connected to you and overseeing your care throughout your entire stay. In Colorado, we are the only Institute with fellowship-trained obstetricians specializing in pain relief (obstetric anesthesiologists) working together with other anesthesiologists and care providers to provide pain relief options, whether you deliver at the University of Colorado Hospital or Children’s Hospital.

Most Common Types of Anesthesia

Approximately 80 percent of women receive pain relief during labor. The most common type of anesthesia provides pain relief to a specific region of the body. These are known as regional anesthetics. They are very effective with very little medication reaching the baby.

Once you begin active labor and are in the hospital, you will most likely receive the type of anesthesia that you have discussed with your health-care provider and OB anesthesiologist. However, you should be prepared that sometimes your situation might change and you might need a different type of pain control. Rest assured that you have the best doctors in the state working to ensure that you are both comfortable and safe.

There are several types of anesthesia that can help control your pain during labor and delivery. These include:

Epidural Anesthesia

A tiny tube (catheter) is placed through a needle that is inserted in the epidural space, a space between the bones of the lower back below the end of the spinal cord. Medication flows through the catheter, which is taped onto your back. It usually takes 15-20 minutes to place the epidural before the medication takes effect. The medication can be delivered continuously alone, or combined with others, and it can last as long as necessary.

Spinal Anesthesia

A small amount of medication is injected into the spinal space by a needle, which is then removed. No catheter is placed in the space but it is one dose of medication that lasts for approximately two hours.

Combined Spinal-Epidural Anesthesia

This option combines both of the previous procedures whereby the needle is inserted in the epidural space and then a spinal needle is placed through the epidural needle and through a small section of vertebrae into the spinal space. A small amount of medication is then injected into the spinal space by a needle that is then removed. Then the catheter is placed through the needle into the epidural space.

Nitrous Oxide Gas

For this treatment that has gained national prominence in recent months, women breathe in a blend of nitrous and oxygen. Nitrous oxide temporarily reduces labor pains allowing women to get through a contraction while also providing additional oxygen and endorphins. The gas does not affect the baby or the ability to push during labor.

Read more about Nitrous Oxide treatment for labor (.PDF).

Dispelling the Myths About Anesthesia

You can’t walk after an epidural You can walk after an epidural, but we encourage that you rest. You and your baby may require monitoring that is hard to manage when you’re walking
You can’t have an epidural until you are at least 3 cm dilated Having an epidural before you are 3 cm dilated does not change the progression of labor or the outcome
Long-term effects with an epidural There is no data to support increased incidence of back pain after 6 months or up to 2 years