Childbirth Pain Relief Uptake at Record Low

The use of pain relief during childbirth is at a record low, with increasing numbers of mothers-to-be seemingly eschewing pharmaceutical pain relief in favour of no pain relief or alternative pain relief strategies.

The revelation came as part of an NHS Digital publication which detailed how the use of pain-relieving medication, including anaesthetics, has fallen from 67% in 2008-09 to 61% in 2018-19.

Clare Murphy, Director of External Affairs with the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) commented, “This data indicates the proportion of women who use analgesics or anaesthetics before or during delivery has decreased.

“More work is needed to better understand the factors behind this shift. It is important that we avoid framing a decline in the use of pain relief as a cause for celebration.”

However, Murphy expressed concern that some women may be saying no to medical pain relief through fear of being perceived as having failed to do things the natural way or because of a climate of pressure and expectation created by celebrities who choose to experience birth “the natural way”.

“We know that sadly many women can feel they have “failed” if they needed pain relief when they had hoped to manage without, and discussions around modes of delivery must not add to this,” said Murphy.

The drop in the use of pain relief comes even at a time when the number of C-section births is increasing, and the number of women under 20 giving births is down by around half. In 2018-19, 16,956 women under 20 had children, compared to 42,209 ten years ago.

Respecting individual choice

Everyone woman will have different hopes and expectations going in to childbirth just as every woman will have a different experience and different variables to contend with during childbirth itself.

Women should not put pressure on themselves to give birth in a certain way, after all, as Clare Murphy told press, “There is no inherent moral value to giving birth with or without pain relief, at home or in a hospital.”

What is important is that a woman’s choices and perspectives are respected by family, friends and maternity staff; this includes respecting her right to change her mind in the event that she has planned to go pain relief-free but is finding the experience of childbirth difficult.