- A Note on Labor Pain -
Purpose and Encouragement

Why in the world would you go through labor pain if you don’t have to? I hear this question a lot. For women who want to have a natural childbirth, they often get told they don’t need to “be a hero.”

So, what is it about labor pain? Pain is a natural thing in labor. For those of us who have been through labor before, we know that it can be by far the most intense pain we’ve ever experienced.

Then there are the women who don’t describe childbirth as painful. They say it’s just really intense. What’s the difference? I think the difference is in our mindset and understanding of labor pain.

True, some may say there’s no point in going through the pain if there’s relief available. On the other hand, you don’t have to worry about any negative side effects from medical pain relief if you don’t get any.

Obviously, there are many physical causes of pain in labor. The pressure the baby puts on the cervix and the pain from the muscles in the uterus contracting so hard. There are also psychological factors that can increase the pain we experience.

Once we start to feel pain in labor, we often get scared, which leads to tension, which causes more pain. The cycle goes around and around. Some say that if women could stay completely relaxed during labor, they wouldn’t feel pain. I think there’s something to this notion. Many women who prepare themselves well to stay relaxed during labor do feel less pain than those who aren’t prepared, and end up getting very tense during labor.

Labor pain seems to be one of the things pregnant women are most worried about. What many people don’t know is that our bodies are designed to deal with the pain effectively. Your body releases a flood of natural pain relieving hormones called endorphins. Your body continues to release these endorphins throughout labor. It can be helpful to remember this when labor gets really intense.

It’s really common for women to think, “If it’s this bad right now and it’s going to get worse, there’s no way I can handle the pain.” What most moms don’t realize at that point is that their bodies will adjust as labor progresses and more hormones will be released. This isn’t to say that it won’t be painful, but it can help to realize that you can get through it if you want to and your body is capable.

Not only is the flood of natural hormones helpful for pain, but there are also other purposes for them. These hormones are very beneficial for the baby- they help the baby to breathe after birth, enhance bonding, and help the baby to cope better with labor, among other things.

When women get medication that prevents them from feeling labor pain, the body doesn’t release these hormones in the same way. This same thing happens when women are in an environment where they don’t feel safe.

One thing that is universally common in labor is the loss of confidence at the end. It’s very typical for laboring women who want to try a drug-free birth to ask for medication when labor gets really intense, without realizing that it’s almost over. If you are hoping to have a natural childbirth, it’s helpful to prepare ahead of time and realize that when the pain gets that bad and you’re almost completely dilated, that you only have to push through a little longer. This is where it is so valuable to have labor support to encourage you to the end.

Ina May Gaskin, an internationally well known midwife and author has this to say about pain:

“I believe that the pain of normal labor does have meaning. The interesting thing about pain is that it is clean. When you are finished experiencing pain, it is over. You cannot re-experience its sensation by remembering it. Labor pain is a special type of pain: It almost always happens without causing any damage to the body.

"When avoidance of pain becomes the major emphasis of childbirth care, the paradoxical effect is that more women have to deal with pain after their babies are born.”

The pain afterward that she is referring to is the pain resulting from possible side effects of interventions and medical pain relief given during labor.

My point here is that labor pain is natural and our bodies are capable of getting through it. This isn’t to say that it’s bad to seek pain relief during childbirth.

Remember that if you opt for an epidural or other medical pain relief, you aren’t a failure. Don't let anyone make you feel bad about it. You aren’t weak, and you are certainly no less of a woman. You couldn't pay some women to birth without an epidural. Does that make them lesser mothers? I think not.

If you want to have a drug free birth, don’t let people make you feel like you’re nuts. You can do it. Your body can handle the pain. It’s not about “being a hero.”

Take the time to learn about all your options, and make your own decisions.

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