Pain Management for Labor

We offer a wide variety of labor support techniques and pain management options.

Non-medical techniques are available in our Birth Center in La Jolla, which are available to those seeking a low-intervention birth experience. Medical options are available in our Labor & Delivery rooms in La Jolla or Hillcrest.

See Giving Birth: Delivery Choices to Fit Your Family

An anesthesiologist will meet with you regardless of whether you're planning anesthesia for your birth. This makes us aware of any medical issues in the unlikely event of an emergency and helps answer your questions about the pros and cons of medical approaches to pain relief during labor.

Non-Medical Options

We support a number of non-medical options for comfort during labor, including:

  • Walking during labor
  • Birthing balls
  • Labor “peanut balls” (peanut-shaped vinyl exercise balls that help relax and open the pelvis of women who are resting in bed or have received epidural anesthesia)
  • Relaxation and breathing techniques
  • Doulas, from our UC San Diego Health volunteer doula program, or your own hired doula

As an option for fetal monitoring, we offer a wireless system with a small, light transmitter that is easy to carry. The cordless monitor allows laboring women to walk, use a birthing ball, or shower instead of being confined to a bed.

Learn relaxation and breathing techniques in our childbirth classes.

Medical Options

Types of Medications

If you choose pain medication during your labor, your options include:


You can receive injections of a narcotic through an IV during labor. The narcotic works quickly and can be given every hour (except immediately before delivery to ensure that its effects will wear off before your baby is born). For some, this medication allows for rest and relax between contractions.

Nitrous oxide gas

This gas is inhaled through a mask during contractions. It lessens but does not eliminate the pain of labor. Its effect occurs only while the gas is being inhaled and disappears rapidly when the mask is removed. It can be used through delivery.

Epidural anesthesia

An epidural can offer very effective pain relief during your labor and birth.

A tiny tube or catheter is placed through a needle into a space (the "epidural space") outside the spinal cord sac in the lower back. The needle is removed and the tubing is taped in place. Similar to an IV, medication is given continuously through the tube during labor and birth.

The medication blocks the pain of contractions. Because of the numbness produced by the epidural, you cannot get out of bed during your labor if you choose this option. Most take this opportunity to get some rest before delivery.

Epidurals are available at our La Jolla or Hillcrest Labor & Delivery suites. Epidurals are not given in our La Jolla Birth Center rooms because they require increased monitoring of you and your baby.

24/7 availability

Our anesthesiologists are available 24 hours a day to administer pain relief, should you need it.