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Michigan OPEN

Obstetrics Pain Management

Preparing to give birth can be stressful, which is why OPEN strives to educate patients and healthcare providers for best practices to manage pain before and after birth. For patients, it is important to establish a plan for your pain management and know which medications are safe to use while breastfeeding. For healthcare providers, it is important to understand the current problem with opioid prescribing for after-birth care, as well as possible solutions moving forward. Focusing in on centering the patient and assessing individual factors can be key in setting up your patient for success. Understand which educational materials may be beneficial to them, which medications to prescribe, and which non-pharmacological strategies to recommend. Keep in mind different inpatient strategies and that patients with complex pain management needs may need different care.


There are many ways to manage pain after having a baby. Your clinician will discuss with you the different recommended options based on the kind of birth and pain you are experiencing and answer any questions you have. Together, you and your clinician can choose what options are best for you. Your clinician will talk to you about your beliefs, wishes, and values related to pain management and how the following may influence your pain plan:

What kind of birth you had: Cesarean births may have more pain

Medications and substances you take: Such as tobacco, alcohol, other drugs 

Opioid use: Including history of opioid use disorder and chronic pain

Mental health conditions or negative experiences: Like trauma and stress that can make pain more difficult to manage

The goal of pain management is for you to do daily activities like eating, sleeping, breathing deeply, and walking for yourself and to take care of your infant.

Some Types of Pain are NOT normal. If you see these signs, call your clinician:

  • Pain that is severe, rating 10/10 
  • Pain prevents you from sleeping 
  • Pain does not get better with medication 
  • Fever 
  • Foul-smelling vaginal discharge 
  • Redness or drainage at your incision 
  • Heavy vaginal bleeding (soaking through >1 pad/hour) 
  • Headaches

Managing Pain After Childbirth

Learn ways to manage pain after childbirth such as: over-the-counter medications, non-medication strategies, and opioids, if prescribed.

Your Pain Management Plan After Birth

Documenting your pain management preferences and sharing them with your clinician can help you work together to develop a plan that’s right for you. Below are several options for pain management after childbirth that can be incorporated into your plan.

Non-Opioid Medications

Use non-opioid medications, like acetaminophen and ibuprofen, for as long as you are having pain. These medications can help lessen your pain and are usually well-tolerated with few side effects. You can take these medications together at the same time OR staggered at different times. Choose one!


Patients may choose to take medications together at the same time because of busy schedules. 

7AM – Acetaminophen (1000mg) + Ibuprofen (800mg)

3PM – Acetaminophen (1000mg) + Ibuprofen (800mg)

11PM – Acetaminophen (1000mg) + Ibuprofen (800mg)


Patients may choose a staggered schedule if pain is more severe.

7AM – Acetaminophen (1000mg)

11AM – Ibuprofen (800mg)

3PM – Acetaminophen (1000mg)

11PM – Ibuprofen (800mg)

Non-Medication Options

There are many techniques to reduce pain that do not require medications. Choose options you would like to try:

  • Abdominal binder 
  • Heat/Ice 
  • Mindful breathing 
  • Mindfulness
  • Acupuncture/Acupressure (where available)
  • Topical spray or cream directly on the area like benzocaine, for vaginal pain
  • Aromatherapy 
  • Deep breathing 
  • Music 
  • Visualization

Opioid Medications

Sometimes an opioid medication may be needed for a short time to manage pain. Most patients who have a vaginal birth do NOT need an opioid medication. Even 60% of patients after cesarean birth reported not needing an opioid when using other options to manage pain. If an opioid medication is needed, your clinician will work with you to find the right opioid prescription size. Opioids are prescription pain medications that may be offered by your prescriber after birth.

  • Use opioids only for severe pain that is not controlled with acetaminophen and ibuprofen. 
  • Stop using or use fewer opioids as your pain gets better. 
  • Do not use opioids at the same time as other medications or substances that can cause sleepiness like alcohol, anti-anxiety medications like Xanax or Valium, muscle relaxers like Flexeril, or sleep aids like Ambien.
  • Protect your family and friends by safely storing medications and disposing when done. Learn more about Safe Storage and Disposal here.
  • Naloxone is a medication that temporarily reverses the dangerous effects of an opioid overdose. Talk to your clinician about a prescription for naloxone. Learn more about Naloxone here

Pain & Breastfeeding

Small amounts of opioids over short periods of time are safe and do not pose risks to babies, but some opioids (codeine, tramadol) are not recommended when breastfeeding.

Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are both safe during breastfeeding. They are found in low amounts in breast milk and are the first choice for pain management.

Talk to your prescriber if you are breastfeeding about the best option for you. Call your pediatrician if your baby seems sleepier than normal, cannot suck as well or is constipated.

Know the Risks of Opioids

Anyone who uses an opioid, even for just a short time, is at risk for dependence, tolerance, misuse, addiction, and overdose. Opioids can cause slowed breathing and lead to overdose death. Opioids are also associated with several side effects. Contact your clinician if you notice any side effects. 

Discuss the following signs and symptoms of an overdose with your family and friends: 

  • Cannot be awakened or speak 
  • Vomiting or making gurgling noises 
  • Limp body that may seem lifeless 
  • Fingernails/lips turned blue/purple 
  • Very pale or clammy to the touch

Healthcare Providers

There are many ways to manage pain after having a baby. Discuss the different recommended options with your patient depending on the kind of birth they choose to have and the pain they are experiencing afterwards. Together, you and your patient can develop a plan that works best for them.

To date, recommendations for pain management after childbirth have largely been limited to cesarean birth (CB), leaving a gap for the two-thirds of patients who undergo vaginal birth (VB). Recommendations have not adapted to the variety of additional procedures patients may undergo at the time of childbirth, like repair of advanced laceration, tubal ligation, or procedures to control hemorrhage. Nor have guidelines specified how to adapt care for those with complex pain management needs. Additionally, current pain management may sometimes fail to center patients’ needs and preferences and miss opportunities to promote equitable, exceptional experiences for all patients. Evidence shows:

Opioid prescribing after childbirth remains high and widely variable

  • In Michigan, there is wide variation across hospitals in proportion of patients who receive an opioid prescription and the prescription size, even when accounting for patient factors.3

Opioid prescribing for acute pain is excessive and risky 

  • EXCESSIVE: Only 25-50% of prescribed opioids are consumed after cesarean delivery in cohort studies4, 5
  • RISKY: Up to one in 75 pregnant individuals who receive an opioid at childbirth, and one in 25 who receive an opioid for acute pain in pregnancy, develop new persistent opioid use6

Significant disparities in pain management practices exist resulting in suboptimal pain control for patients marginalized by racism, social determinants of health, language barriers, and substance use

  • Individuals who are Black, young, living in poverty, or affected by  substance use disorder, are more likely to experience disrespectful maternity care–including paternalism, neglect of reproductive autonomy, and other dehumanizing treatment7, 8
  • Patients from historically marginalized groups have faced inequities in postpartum pain management (e.g., receiving fewer pain assessments and opioid medication for the same pain scores when compared to White patients).9, 10

Clinical Practice Guidelines for acute pain after surgery successfully reduce opioid prescribing without compromising patient-reported pain scores or patient satisfaction2

  • From an interrupted time series analysis of opioid prescription size, opioid consumption, and satisfaction among adults undergoing surgery in Michigan before and after release of postoperative opioid prescribing guideline


The Problem

Childbirth is the most common reason for hospitalization in the United States. Until now, there were no comprehensive national Clinical Practice Guidelines on managing pain after childbirth.


The COMFORT clinical practice guideline (CPG) is designed to promote care standardization (i.e., all patients receive the same pain management choices supported by evidence) and personalization (i.e., patients and clinicians select from evidence-based options to create tailored care plans responsive to individual patient needs, preferences, and values). Offering everyone the same choices supported by evidence, and deciding on the best options through partnership between clinicians and patients, may help promote better clinical outcomes, better experiences of care, reduced risk of opioid harms, and more equitable outcomes for all.

The Solution

The COMFORT CPG is designed to promote care standardization and personalization of postpartum pain management.


Preparation for and education about postpartum pain and management options. For patients receiving opioid medication, information on the risks and benefits of opioid prescribing (including sedation, overdose, and persistent use), the effects on lactation, and safe disposal

Scheduled non-opioid medications, (e.g. NSAID, acetaminophen), among those without contraindications

Non-pharmacologic strategies (e.g., abdominal binder, heat/ice therapy)

Opioid medication, if needed, prescribed within COMFORT CPG-concordant ranges


Assessment of individual factors (e.g., medical and social risks, preferences) that may affect pain management counseling and decision-making

Selecting simultaneous vs. staggered dosing

Selecting which strategies to use, if any

Electing whether to receive an opioid prescription, and if so, how many tablets within the recommended opioid prescribing range


“…it seemed almost like they just gave me what they give to everyone and then let me go home, and then the next person would come in and give birth and they’d get the same thing and then go home… It wasn’t asking pointed questions to get to the best to answers for me because I’m obviously different than everybody else that day that was giving birth… Everybody’s different.” (Patient)

“…this would really standardize postpartum pain management, which desperately needs to be standardized in the United States. I think this would improve satisfaction with postpartum pain control, because it sets an expectation and forces the conversation if it isn’t already happening. And I think it would reduce the amount of opioids that are prescribed, reduce the amount of extra opioids in everyone’s medical cabinets, and hopefully reduce the number of patients that have to see me for opioid use disorder as well.” (Clinician)

“…you do need the standardization in terms of, ‘here are the main things that you need to do for everybody regardless.’ But then also before you just check off a box, you have to consider the human that you’re treating. And are there any patient factors that would change how you check that box?” (Clinician)

Patient-Centeredness and Health Equity

Interviews with patients and providers about acute pain management for peripartum patients documented experiences of unmet information needs, dismissive care, unresponsiveness to patient concerns and preferences, and failures to offer compassionate, respectful, humanistic care.

Individuals often noted the effects of racism, classism, and other biases and social stigma on care delivery, with overlapping systems of inequity creating exponential disadvantage for some individuals navigating peripartum pain management in the healthcare system:

  • “I can see that certain people are believed a little bit more about their pain […] I’ve seen this in the Black population , […] in the Hispanic population […] in the Asian population, the East Asian population too.” (Clinician)
  • “…we all have bias… we all were raised in this racist, sexist, homophobic system” (Clinician)
  • “ Am I going to be treated differently because of my background or because I’m not American enough?” (Patient)
  • “I feel like they had reason to look down on me, because of my financial and social status.” (Patient)
  • “I told her I hadn’t had any medicine in the last 24 hours, and I was literally being ignored… this is how, especially with Black women, this is how we die after childbirth or during labors, is [sic] because no one’s listening.” (Patient)
I didn't get the desired attention that I needed. I had so many questions, and I was going through pain. So I needed relief, and I needed to know why I was feeling that way.

Taking Action to Promote Patient-Centeredness and Equity 

These findings suggest an urgent need for clinicians to rectify current care disparities. We can take action by: 

  • Engaging in self-reflection and education about how biases and social stigma may influence clinical counseling and decision-making related to pain management.
  • Striving to build trusting, collaborative alliances with patients by offering non-judgmental, compassionate, respectful care that is responsive to patient’s lived experiences, preferences, and values.
  • Offering universal anticipatory guidance about postpartum pain and standardized, evidence-based pain management may promote more equitable care and a better patient experience.
  • Personalizing pain management plans, using shared decision-making, to anchor individual patient needs, preferences, and values at the center of care decisions.

Assessing Individual Factors

When providing patient-centered care, it is crucial to thoroughly assess each individual’s unique preferences, mental health status, history of trauma, type of birth, as well as their current and past medications and substance use, to ensure the most appropriate and compassionate care is delivered.

FactorsComponentsHow does this influence pain?How to assess
Patient PreferencePatient's beliefs, wishes, and values related to pain managementSome patients may want to avoid opioid medications; others may be concerned about managing their pain at homeAsk what is most important to you in managing your pain? What concerns do you have about opioid medications or pain?
Mental Health-Depression
Mental health conditions may affect a patient’s experience of pain and are associated with increased risk of new persistent opioid use following childbirthScreening tools:
-Edinburgh Postnatal
-Depression Scale (EPDS)
History of Trauma-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
-Intimate partner violence
Trauma can increase difficulty of pain management and may affect patient preferences for management optionsScreening tools:
-Primary Care Screen for DSM-5 (PC-PTSD)
-PTSD Checklist for DSM-5 (PCL-5)
Type of Birth-Vaginal Birth
-Vaginal Birth with additional procedures or lacerations
-Cesarean Birth
Operative procedures and advanced lacerations may be associated with increased postpartum painDelivery Summary
Operative Report
Medications/Substance UsePotentially sedating medications
Use of prescriptions like benzodiazepines, hypnotics, and sedatives
These medications increase the risk of respiratory suppression and persistent use with opioid prescribingMedication Administration Record
Medications/Substance UseSubstance Use:
-Other illicit substances or non-medical use of prescribed medications
Substance use can both increase difficulty of pain management and also increase the risk of respiratory suppression and persistent use with opioid prescribingScreening Tools:
Medications/Substance UseAbility to Receive Non-Opioid Medications:
Patients who cannot take acetaminophen and/or ibuprofen may have higher baseline painAllergy list
Patient discussion

Key Considerations

  1. Tailoring care to patients’ individual needs helps them feel heard, included, respected, and cared for: patients welcomed the COMFORT CPG’s call for tailoring, and described how, if executed well, it could improve their care experience.
  2. Using validated screening tools when appropriate is an important way to reduce clinician biases and promote equity. Tools should be universally administered to identify all individuals with factors that may influence pain management and avoid further stigmatizing historically marginalized individuals.

Patient-Centeredness & Health Equity

To establish a tailored postpartum pain management plan, first assess for individual factors that may influence how we treat pain. These factors include patient preference, mental health conditions, birth type, history of trauma and other health conditions like substance use and ability to receive non-opioid medications. 

It is important to reassess factors, like mental health, history of trauma, and patient preferences throughout the pregnancy: through relationship and trust building, patients may gain greater comfort sharing these factors with their care team and these individual factors can evolve over time.

I would've felt so much more, I guess unique, for lack of a better word. I wouldn't have felt so like an assembly line, you're giving birth, you're getting one thing, and you're moving along. You know what I mean? It would feel more like someone was taking the time to ask actually how I'm feeling, give me options and then let me make the decision that's best for myself.

Best Practice

No two patients or birth experiences are identical. Therefore, pain management plans should be tailored to an individual’s needs.

Patient Education and Counseling

Establishing clear expectations for pain management and the range of sensations that may be experienced during the birthing process is essential for empowering patients and facilitating a more informed and less anxiety-provoking childbirth experience.

Set Clear Expectations for Pain Experience:

How pain management differs across mode of delivery and procedures:

Even patients planning vaginal birth should receive information about the possibility of cesarean birth and pain management.

  • “We are committed to doing everything we can to support you in having a vaginal birth. Still, up to one-third of people will need a cesarean for a safe birth. Is it alright if we talk about what recovery would look like if you need a cesarean?”

Expectations for recovery after childbirth:

Help patients know what to expect after birth, including normal and abnormal pain.

  • “Most patients report feeling 100% recovered by 6 weeks after vaginal birth and 6 weeks after cesarean birth”
  • “Some pain is normal. You should be able to walk and light activity but may be sore for a few days. This will gradually get better with time.”
  • “If your pain is suddenly severe, even with your home medications, it is important to call us.”

Discuss Effective Medications for Pain Management:

First-line pain management should include non-opioid and non-pharmacologic strategies:

Acetaminophen and NSAIDs should be used together as first-line medications for postpartum pain unless contraindicated*.

  • “Tylenol® and Motrin® are the first medications we use to manage your pain after childbirth. By themselves, they are often enough to manage your pain.”
  • “Over half of patients who have a cesarean birth report their pain is controlled with just Tylenol® and Motrin®.”

Offer a menu of non-pharmacological strategies that may improve the pain experience.

  • “Non-medication strategies like ice, heat, abdominal binders, and mindfulness, can be helpful ‘add-ons’ to other pain management strategies like Tylenol® and Motrin®. We can work together to pick what works best for you.”
  • “Ice for your perineum (bottom) or heat for your cramping can be very helpful when used with Tylenol® and Motrin® after a vaginal birth. An abdominal binder can help you be more comfortable after a cesarean birth.”

Less Risky Opioid Use + Harm Reduction

Patients requiring an opioid prescription should receive information on how to safely use the medication and harm reduction strategies. Sample topics to cover:

  • Use of prescription opioids ONLY to manage severe breakthrough pain that is not relieved by other alternatives
  • Safety of limited opioid consumption for lactating moms, and the importance of watching for infant sedation and respiratory suppression
  • Risks and side effects of opioid medications (constipation, sedation, respiratory depression, dependence, withdrawal, addiction, overdose)
  • Not to use opioids at the same time as alcohol, benzodiazepines, muscle relaxers, sleep aids, or other medications that can cause sleepiness
  • Appropriate use of naloxone, if prescribed
  • How to safely store and dispose of opioids
  • Discuss mental health and well-being to improve postpartum recovery
  • Review and sign Start Talking form per MDHHS requirements

Key Considerations

  1. Provide comprehensive, clinician-initiated anticipatory guidance, prior to the birth hospitalization if possible, and in the patient’s primary language: This may help set expectations for postpartum pain, help patients feel more comfortable with pain management options, reduce anxiety, and promote patients’ ability to participate in shared decision making. 
  2. Include support people, if desired by a patient, in conversations about pain management: This may help clinicians and families to better function as a team and help support people advocate for birthing individuals. 
  3. Utilize non-judgmental, respectful language, acknowledge patients’ lived expertise, and adapt educational content to each patient’s informational needs. This may help patients feel seen, cared for, and well-positioned to participate in shared decision-making.

Patient-Centeredness and Health Equity

“I didn’t know what to expect… I feel like if I had a conversation with my provider about these things, of what to expect and have a solid plan, I feel like I would’ve been more at ease and comfortable with how things would possibly turn out.” (Patient)

I didn't know what to expect… I feel like if I had a conversation with my provider... I would've been more comfortable.

Start Talking Form

PA 246 of 2017 requires prescribers to provide Opioid Education using the state’s or similar Start Talking Form when prescribing an Opioid drug.

Best Practice

A patient, and if desired, their support person, should receive counseling (ideally prior to the birth admission) that reviews expectations of pain experience and pain management options following all modes of delivery and complications.

First-Line Medications to Manage Pain

Since acetaminophen and most NSAIDs are available over the counter and don’t require a prescription, patients and support persons often do not receive instructions on how to use them after surgery. Following packaging instructions may result in underdosing. Additionally, some patients may not be able to pay out of pocket for medications. Universally prescribing acetaminophen and NSAIDs can ensure: patients know the right dosing; non-opioid medications are used first-line; and all patients have access to these medications.  

Ibuprofen is the NSAID most studied in pregnancy. Other NSAIDs may be appropriate if preferred by the patient or provider for dosing intervals or other considerations.

Why? There is a moderate to high level of evidence to support scheduled Acetaminophen (Tylenol®) and ibuprofen (Motrin®) after both vaginal and cesarean birth for effective pain management and reduced opioid requirements.2

What about lactation? Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are both safe during breastfeeding. They are found in low concentrations in breast milk and are the first choice for pain management for lactating parents.

What about Cesarean Birth? For the first 24 hours postpartum, the first 3 doses of oral NSAID, can be replaced with 3 doses of Toradol 15 mg IV every 8 hours.

My pain management was really staying on top of that scheduled medicine. I was setting alarms. I had notebooks of when I took the last dose of even the over-the-counter medicines, [to avoid] playing catch up to pain.


7AM – Acetaminophen (1000mg) + Ibuprofen (800mg)

3PM – Acetaminophen (1000mg) + Ibuprofen (800mg)

11PM – Acetaminophen (1000mg) + Ibuprofen (800mg)


7AM – Acetaminophen (1000mg)

11AM – Ibuprofen (800mg)

3PM – Acetaminophen (1000mg)

11PM – Ibuprofen (800mg)

Schedules for First-line Medications

TOGETHER: taking Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen at the same time.

  • Why choose this schedule? Simultaneous dosing may be easier to administer.
  • Inpatient: Simultaneous dosing may be easier to incorporate on busy floors or with high patient to nurse staffing ratios.
  • Discharge: Patients may choose this dosing to reduce burden or facilitate sleep.

STAGGERED: alternating taking Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen.

  • Why choose this schedule? There is limited evidence in non-obstetric patients to support staggering medications.
  • Inpatient: Patients with more breakthrough pain may benefit from staggered dosing.
  • Discharge: Patients with poorer pain control may consider this approach

Schedules above are based on every 8 hour dosing. Dosing medications every 6 hours may also be appropriate (e.g., acetaminophen 650 mg q6 and ibuprofen 600mg q6 together or staggered).

But telling me like, ‘Oh, well you could go buy Tylenol and Advil,’ and if I don't have that 10 bucks to buy it, then I'm going to just sit there and suffer in pain.

Key Considerations

Clinicians should consider assessing for barriers to non-opioid medications, and providing resources and strategies to overcome them such as: 

  • Cost: Provide prescriptions for acetaminophen and NSAIDs to reduce out of pocket costs as these may be covered by insurance or consult social work to determine additional support options
  • Competing Demands: Provide strategies to increase adherence to using non-opioid medications such as encouraging setting alarms, timing medication with other routine activities (e.g., diaper change, infant feeds)

Best Practice

Prescribe acetaminophen and an NSAID at discharge. All patients without contraindication should be prescribed scheduled acetaminophen and an NSAID after childbirth to reduce baseline pain.

Non-Pharmacological Strategies

While evidence for many non-pharmacologic strategies is limited, these interventions are low-risk with potential for benefit. In combination with other opioid-sparing strategies, non-pharmacologic interventions can potentially improve a patient’s pain experience. Clinicians should present non-pharmacological strategies as supplemental to routine postpartum pain management to avoid minimizing patients’ pain. Use caution and appropriate timing when offering non-pharmacological strategies. Consider emphasizing that these strategies may accompany first-line treatments used to manage pain, but should not replace them.

Key Considerations

Clinicians should be aware of barriers to non-pharmacologic strategies, and provide resources and strategies to overcome them such as:

  • Cost: Consider providing patients with a COMFORT bundle (e.g., package including abdominal binder, reusable heating pad); provide low-cost resources for non-pharmacologic approaches (e.g., free meditation app, do it yourself aromatherapy).
  • Time: Consider assessing a patient’s ability and desire to engage in non-pharmacologic strategies. Where possible, suggest how interventions can be incorporated in daily activities (e.g., deep breathing while feeding baby).

Patient-Centeredness and Health Equity

“If you’re a single mom, like I’m a single mom now, there is no time for mindfulness…. So while those are wonderful things, they’re not realistic things for people whose situations are not a two-parent household, whose situations don’t allow for them to have five minutes for themselves without a person and/or someone needing them.” (Patient)

“You want to be pretty sensitive in how you’re presenting it, because someone in pain is very likely to be hypervigilant to, ‘I’m in horrible pain, and all you’re telling me to do is smell this lavender oil. Why aren’t you treating my pain?’ And then the relationship is soured.” (Clinician)


Non-Medication Pain Management

Learn how to help manage or reduce your pain and anxiety through various techniques. 

Best Practice

Offer patients a menu of non-pharmacologic options that may help manage pain.

Opioid Prescribing

When an opioid is needed, use the COMFORT Panel prescribing ranges as the foundation for a shared decision-making conversation with the patient to determine the best prescription size. Starting from a standardized approach and then allowing for individualization helps to promote both equity and patient-centeredness. 

Determine the opioid prescribing range based on:

  1. Type of birth
  2. Additional procedures 

Determine the right prescription size:

  1. Assess/reassess for individual risk factors 
  2. Consider patient preferences and other non-opioid strategies
  3. Pain management at discharge: pain scores and medication use in 24 hours prior to discharge* and timing of discharge

*Clinicians should be aware of inequities in how pain is assessed and treated.

Adult Prescribing Recommendations

Use OPEN’s evidence-based prescribing recommendations for tailored pain management after surgery in adult patients.

COMFORT Panel Opioid Prescribing Ranges

Prescription range (in 5mg tabs of oxycodone)
Routine Vaginal Birth + VBAC0
3rd or 4th degree laceration0-10
Postpartum sterilization with minilap0-5
Cesarean birth, discharged POD20-15
Wound vacuum0-15
Peripartum hysterectomy (Additional)0-10
Dilation and Curettage0
Uterine Artery Embolization0
Postpartum endometritis, antibiotics complete0

Note: For patients at risk of inadequate pain management (e.g., cannot receive NSAIDs/Acetaminophen): Consider prescribing closer to the upper range. For patients at risk of adverse effects of opioid medications (e.g., use of sedating medications, non-opioid SUD): Consider prescribing closer to the lower range.

Additional Considerations for Routine Postpartum Patients

Opioid SelectionPrescribe oxycodone, morphine, or hydromorphone, for all patients regardless of lactation plans.

Limit prescription size to 30mg/day of oxycodone or the equivalent (45 OME) in lactating patients.
IV opioids where possible

Prescribing opioids that contain acetaminophen (e.g. Norco®, Vicodin®, Percocet®) to minimize risk of acetaminophen overdose

Prescribing codeine or tramadol for all patients regardless of lactation plans due to risk of ultrarapid metabolism and infant sedation.

Discharge PrescribingIf an opioid is indicated at discharge, follow the clinician tool for discharge opioid prescribingPreemptive opioid prescribing when there is uncertainty about a patient’s postpartum pain needs
Co-PrescribingConsider co-prescribing naloxone for ALL patients, particularly for patients at high risk, such as those with:
-History of substance use/tobacco use
-Chronic pain
-Sleep apnea
-Mental health conditions
-Taking opioids for more than a few days
Prescribing opioids with other sedative medications (e.g., benzodiazepines, skeletal muscle relaxants)
If the conclusion and what I got was the same, I still would've had that feeling of a) being heard, and b) being included in my own care… it doesn't really matter what the ultimate outcome is… it's more valuable to me, even above pain management, to feel like I'm in control of my health decisions.

Key Considerations

  1. Standardizing opioid prescribing ranges for specific procedures and conditions can improve health equity: Utilizing the COMFORT prescribing ranges may help ensure that all patients have access to appropriate opioid prescription options. 
  2. Shared decision making – with decisions driven by patients – is the ideal way to select the final opioid prescription size: Aligning opioid prescribing with a patient’s wishes and lived realities may promote trust, autonomy, and a better patient experience of care. 
  3. Anticipated activity upon discharge and risk of opioid abuse/misuse may affect postpartum pain needs: Clinicians should be cautious when incorporating these factors into decisions about opioid prescribing given the known biases in determining how these factors might affect postpartum pain needs.

Best Practice

Opioid stewardship practices can promote excellent pain management while minimizing the risks of opioid prescribing.

Inpatient Strategies

Implementing tailored pain management strategies that align with the specific requirements of a vaginal or cesarean birth is vital to ensure each patient receives the most effective and appropriate care for their unique childbirth experience.


Patient Controlled Analgesia with IV medications may be appropriate for patients who do not have adequate pain control with routine measures after cesarean birth or cannot receive routine pain control.

Transversus Abdominis Plane (TAP) Block, Ketamine infusion, surgical site infiltration with local anesthetic and perioperative gabapentin has uncertain benefit for patients who do not have adequate pain control with routine measures or cannot receive routine pain control after cesarean birth.

Considerations for practice: 


Patients who receive long-acting regional analgesia following routine cesarean birth DO NOT BENEFIT from additional inpatient pain management strategies like TAP block, surgical site infiltration with local anesthetic, or IV PCA.


Patients who cannot receive long-acting regional analgesia following cesarean birth, have complex pain management needs (e.g., patients with OUD, chronic pain), or have poorly controlled pain after birth MAY BENEFIT from additional inpatient pain management strategies.



Surgical site infiltration with local anesthetic has uncertain benefits for patients who do not have adequate pain control with routine measures after vaginal birth.

Transversus Abdominis Plane (TAP) Block and Ketamine infusion are inappropriate, and long-acting regional analgesia, Patient Controlled Analgesia with IV medications, and perioperative gabapentin are likely inappropriate for patients who do not have adequate pain control with routine measures after vaginal birth.

Key Considerations

Counseling about peripartum pain management should include a discussion of the safety and efficacy of regional analgesia: Eliciting patients’ concerns about regional analgesia can promote shared knowledge and trust.


Patient-Centeredness and Health Equity

“So I have patients who come in telling me, oh, the epidural’s going to give me chronic back pain, and so they don’t want it. And that’s just a matter of, I think misunderstanding and a lot of work we have to do on patient education. Not only misunderstanding, but also mistrust of the healthcare system because they’ve probably been mistreated in the past.” (Clinician)

Not only misunderstanding, but also mistrust of the healthcare system because they've probably been mistreated in the past.

Best Practice

All patients should receive long-acting regional anesthesia after cesarean birth.

Patients with Complex Pain Management: OUD and Chronic Pain

Clinicians should have a set of principles to guide them when treating people with complex pain cases. They should aim to keep the patient as comfortable as possible, with a few extra steps and special things to keep in mind for each person’s situation.

Patients with Complex Pain Management

  1. Consider the heterogeneity of OUD and chronic pain, and tailor appropriately 
  2. Consider the altered pain management experience of patients with chronic opioid exposure 
  3. Wherever possible, utilize an interprofessional approach to care management including anesthesia, addiction medicine, and the patient’s primary opioid/medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD) prescriber. Consider telemedicine if expertise is not readily available. 
  4. When using shared decision making to partner with patients; consider the significant stigma faced by patients with complex pain.
  5. Clinicians should assess and address social drivers of health that disproportionately affect care access and outcomes for patients with complex pain.
  1. Education and Counseling 
    • Educate patients and families with prenatal opioid use on the heightened risk of overdose in the postoperative and postpartum period
    • Patients with OUD and their families should be informed that treating pain is important for healing and recovery, and reduces rates of return to non-prescribed opioid use
    • Educate patients and families with prenatal opioid use on the risk of Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome and neonatal respiratory suppression if breastfeeding while using opioid medications
    • Educate patients on long-term opioid therapy on how to return to their routine opioid regimen and manage pain
    • Patients should be counseled about the risks of taking opioid medications and sedating medications or substances (e.g., benzodiazepines, alcohol, cannabis) concurrently
    • Patients should be offered Naloxone at discharge and patients and family members/caregivers should be educated on its proper use
  2.  Non-opioid strategies 
    • Consider extended courses of toradol (24 to 48 hours) during the postpartum admission to reduce pain in postpartum patients when not contraindicated
  3.  Non-pharmacologic strategies
    • When possible, connect patients with a therapist trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy prior to birth to prepare for postoperative/postpartum pain management
  4.  Inpatient strategies 
    • Long-acting neuraxial opioids combined with NSAIDs and Acetaminophen is typically effective for pain relief in patients with opioid-tolerance, and is considered a best-practice for cesarean birth.
    • Because traditional pain management strategies are potentially less efficacious in patients with long term opioid therapy/OUD, alternative strategies may be considered on an individual basis in patients with insufficient relief. As these strategies lack evidence in pregnant/postpartum patients, patients receiving these management options should be closely monitored
    • IV-PCA with on-demand low-dose opioids. Basal opioid infusion should be avoided or used with continuous monitoring
    • Low-dose IV ketamine (potentiates the effects of opioids and reduces pain by blocking the NMDA receptor) and IV lidocaine
    • Transverse Abdominis Plane (TAP) Block
  5.  Opioid prescribing at discharge 
    • Confirm existing opioid prescriptions with prescribing provider, patient, and PDMP where appropriate
    • Prioritize return to preprocedural regimen as soon as possible and coordination of prescribing with usual prescriber
    • Opioids should be prescribed on an as needed basis, rather than a continuous or set interval.
    • Prescribe only the quantity likely to be used, not to exceed 2-3 days, unless extenuating circumstances.
    • Discharge prescription size should be based on 24-hour prior to discharge oral opioid usage and the patient’s patient control prior to discharge, recognizing daily dose will be decreasing
    • Clinicians should prescribe immediate-release/short-acting (ie oxycodone, hydromorphone), as opposed to extended-release/long-acting opioids
    • Close follow up to re-evaluate pain control is preferable to automatic refills, to provide a time for reevaluation of pain management
  1. All pregnant patients with OUD should be offered MOUD (e.g., methadone, buprenorphine) during pregnancy. Hospital admissions may provide an opportunity to start MOUD for patients not yet receiving this treatment.
  2. The choice of MOUD agent and dosages should be made with the use of an individualized, person-centered approach.
  3. Due to limited evidence for Naltrexone in pregnancy, it is not a first line agent for MOUD in pregnancy. Postoperative/postpartum pain may be more difficult to manage with Naltrexone.
  4. For patients who take MOUD, continue their dose during the hospitalization and at discharge; consider split dosing or temporary increases in dosing frequency (e.g., every 6-8 hours) during episodes of acute pain.
  5. Avoid sedative/hypnotic medications (e.g., benzodiazepines) in patients on MOUD/long term opioid therapy due to the increased risk of respiratory suppression, but do not abruptly discontinue these medications in people who have established use.
  6. Providers should consider how MOUD affects medications commonly used in pain management: MOUD may reduce the efficacy of full-agonist medications. Mixed opioid agonist/antagonists such as pentazocine, butorphanol, nalbuphine may precipitate withdrawal in patients receiving MOUD and should be avoided.
  7. For patients maintained on buprenorphine, consider full mu agonists with a strong affinity (lower K binding coefficient) for the mu receptor (e.g.; hydromorphone).
  8. Providers and health system leaders should work together to ensure that multiple forms of MOUD are available on hospital formularies to provide the most options for effectively managing postoperative/postpartum pain and for continuing preadmission MOUD therapy.

Key Considerations

  1. Clinicians should receive education on how biases and social stigma may influence clinical counseling and decision-making related to pain management and work towards dismantling their effects:  Patients with OUD and complex pain experience significant biases that negatively affect their care, including being labeled as “drug seeking” when requesting assistance with pain management or having their pain undertreated. 
  2. Standardized protocols for patients with complex pain:  Universal approaches may reduce stigma and inequities in pain management by ensuring patients with OUD and complex pain have access to the same evidence-based strategies as other patients. 
  3. Tailor pain management plans to individuals’ unique needs: For patients with complex pain, include clear points of tailoring within standardized protocols  to best address differences in pain management needs, risks of opioid exposure, and preferences. 
  4. Shared decision making – with decisions driven by patients – is the ideal way to develop pain management plans for patients with complex pain: This may reduce stigma and improve the patient experience by demonstrating respect and promoting individual self-efficacy for patients who have been marginalized by the health system.


Patient-Centeredness and Health Equity

“So I think also with being an addict, a lot of times hospitals think you’re drug seeking when you’re telling them you’re in pain and you need something for it. For example, during my pregnancy, my epidural came out and they didn’t believe me. Then finally hours checking, they realized my epidural came out… I felt like I was being treated like I wasn’t being taken seriously, and they just thought that I was trying to get drugs even though I had been clean ever since my pregnancy. So that was kind of my experience with it.” (Patient)

A lot of times hospitals think you're drug seeking when you're telling them you're in pain and you need something for it.

Best Practice

Clinicians should use a principles based approach to managing pain in patients with complex pain. Where possible, clinicians should offer patients COMFORT with some additions and specific considerations.

Resources for Peripartum Pain Management


  1. Blitz, M. J., Rochelson, B., Prasannan, L., Stoffels, G. J., Pappas, K., Palleschi, G. T., & Marchbein, H. (2022). Scheduled versus asneeded postpartum analgesia and oxycodone utilization. The journal of maternal-fetal & neonatal medicine : the official journal of the European Association of Perinatal Medicine, the Federation of Asia and Oceania Perinatal Societies, the International Society of Perinatal Obstetricians, 35(6), 1054–1062.
  2. Vu, J. V., Howard, R. A., Gunaseelan, V., Brummett, C. M., Waljee, J. F., & Englesbe, M. J. (2019). Statewide Implementation of Postoperative Opioid Prescribing Guidelines. The New England journal of medicine, 381(7), 680–682.
  3. Peahl, A. F., Morgan, D. M., Langen, E. S., Low, L. K., Brummett, C. M., Lai, Y. L., … & Waljee, J. (2023). Variation in Opioid Prescribing After Vaginal and Cesarean Birth: A Statewide Analysis. Women’s Health Issues, 33(2), 182-190.
  4. Bateman, B. T., Cole, N. M., Maeda, A., Burns, S. M., Houle, T. T., Huybrechts, K. F., … & Leffert, L. R. (2017). Patterns of opioid prescription and use after cesarean delivery. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 130(1), 29-35.
  5. Peahl, A. F., Hallway, A., Kenney, B., Lawrence, E. R., Smith, R., Brummett, C. M., & Waljee, J. F. (2023). Pain and recovery following cesarean delivery in patients receiving an opioid-sparing pain regimen. AJOG Global Reports, 3(3).
  6. Peahl, A. F., Morgan, D. M., Dalton, V. K., Zivin, K., Lai, Y. L., Hu, H. M., … & Bauer, M. E. (2020). New persistent opioid use after acute opioid prescribing in pregnancy: a nationwide analysis. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology, 223(4), 566-e1.
  7. Attanasio, L., & Kozhimannil, K. B. (2015). Patient-reported communication quality and perceived discrimination in maternity care. Medical care, 53(10), 863-871.
  8. Vedam, S., Stoll, K., Taiwo, T. K., Rubashkin, N., Cheyney, M., Strauss, N., … & GVtM-US Steering Council. (2019). The Giving Voice to Mothers study: inequity and mistreatment during pregnancy and childbirth in the United States. Reproductive health, 16, 1-18.
  9. Badreldin, N., Grobman, W. A., & Yee, L. M. (2019). Racial disparities in postpartum pain management. Obstetrics and gynecology, 134(6), 1147.
  10. Johnson, J. D., Asiodu, I. V., McKenzie, C. P., Tucker, C., Tully, K. P., Bryant, K., … & Stuebe, A. M. (2019). Racial and ethnic inequities in postpartum pain evaluation and management. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 134(6), 1155-1162.