Many drugs are available for pain relief during labor and delivery; however, because all have potential side effects for mother and baby, they must be administered with caution. In early labor, sedatives may be used to help the mother relax. Narcotics can decrease pain in active labor. Both can have short-term effects on the infant, and are not recommended when the baby is premature, or shows fetal distress. Regional anesthetics are given during active labor, and include the paracervical (pair-uh-SIR-vic-ul) block which numbs the uterus, and the more common epidural, (ep-ih-DUR-al) considered to be one of the safest painkillers. In an epidural, a small tube is placed in the outer covering of the spinal cord, so medication can be injected during labor and delivery. Another method called a spinal block employs an anesthesia during delivery that affects either the lower half of the body, or just the vaginal area. For procedures like episiotomy, (eh- PEEZ-ee-OT-oh-mee) where an incision is made at the opening of the vagina to aid delivery, local anesthesia may be injected in or around the vagina. This method is usually quite safe. General anesthesia is rarely used, except for emergency C-sections. It should be noted that natural childbirth and low-dosage pain relief can be combined; many hospitals now offer this approach. Because the subject of childbirth pain relief is complex, you should become aware of the various options in advance. Also, ask your doctor for more details, so you can make an informed choice.