Labor causes severe pain for many women. There is no other circumstance in which it is considered acceptable for an individual to experience untreated severe pain that is amenable to safe intervention while the individual is under a physician’s care. Many women desire pain management during labor and delivery, and there are many medical indications for analgesia and anesthesia during labor and delivery. In the absence of a medical contraindication, maternal request is a sufficient medical indication for pain relief during labor. A woman who requests epidural analgesia during labor should not be deprived of this service based on the status of her health insurance. Third-party payers that provide reimbursement for obstetric services should not deny reimbursement for labor analgesia because of an absence of “other medical indications.” Anesthesia services should be available to provide labor analgesia and surgical anesthesia in all hospitals that offer maternal care (levels I–IV) (1). Although the availability of different methods of labor analgesia will vary from hospital to hospital, the methods available within an institution should not be based on a patient’s ability to pay.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists believes that in order to allow the maximum number of patients to benefit from neuraxial analgesia, labor nurses should not be restricted from participating in the management of pain relief during labor. Under appropriate physician supervision, labor and delivery nursing personnel who have been educated properly and have demonstrated current competence should be able to participate in the management of epidural infusions.
The purpose of this document is to review medical options for analgesia during labor and anesthesia for surgical procedures that are common at the time of delivery. Nonpharmacologic options such as massage, immersion in water during the first stage of labor, acupuncture, relaxation, and hypnotherapy are not covered in this document, although they may be useful as adjuncts or alternatives in many cases.