The Pain of Labor Is Not What You Think

May 22, 2018

It’s no lie, bringing a baby into the world can be hard work. Of course, every woman’s experience of labor may vary, but for most people, there is some effort involved to get that tiny human you just created, out!

However, I think that the media sometimes over-exaggerates the amount of intensity and pain that labor entails. Before giving birth, pregnant women are told to expect “the worst pain of their life.” Blanket statement. But what does that even mean?

The truth is, the pain, or intensity of, labor, isn’t anything like the pain you are probably thinking. I mean, when I hear “worst pain” I think of the time I broke my arm at summer camp as a kid. Ouch.

The contractions in labor, though, aren’t quite like that.

There are different kinds of pain.

I think our culture does a disservice by lumping all types of pain together into one big YIKES category. In reality, there are different types of pain and sensation. When you get down to it, pain really isn’t an inherently bad thing: it is your bodies way of communicating something with you! That can either be “Hey something is wrong, I need help!” or “Hey, I’m working hard here, I need some support!”

Breaking your arm, smashing your toe, getting a cut, getting sick: those are all examples of pain that is signaling something is off. Some kind of first aid or medical help might be needed to help aid the body in getting better.

But have you ever gone on a hike or a long bike ride? Done a really intense yoga session, gone on a run, done ballet, played a game of volleyball? Worked in your yard, moved furniture around in your house, walked up and down several flights of stairs at once? No matter how athletic you have ever been in your life, we have all had the experience of our body working hard, and feeling your body pushed closer to its physical limits.

Is that feeling sometimes uncomfortable, yes. Is it totally unbearable, and does it mean something is wrong? Definitely not! It just means that you need a little more support to keep going, whether it’s staying hydrated, getting some encouragement to keep going mentally and physically, maximizing downtime and rest when it happens, etc.

Kind of like labor.

Yes, labor can be actual, physical work. Your uterus, which is the body part that is doing all that contracting, is an incredibly strong muscle. One of the strongest in your body, in fact, and you didn’t even have to take it to the gym (score!) Is it freaking intense sometimes when it works hard? YES. Is it the same pain as breaking your arm? Not usually. It’s the pain that comes along with something working hard, and doing exactly what it’s meant to do. And we will be there to support you through!

Does that mean that there is no room for medical intervention or pain relief in labor? Of course not. Every person has unique needs in labor, and sometimes modern medicine is just the right supportive aid to keep going too. And there are many other non-medical ways of supporting a laboring person too (we can teach you at our Comfort Measures for Labor Workshop!). Learning to listen to your body in pregnancy and labor will help you understand what support you need in the moment when the time comes.

Use pregnancy as a time to think about what tools, what mental and physical strength, you have tapped into when doing something really hard in the past. We all have some prior life experience working really hard on something, maybe even pushing beyond what we thought we were really capable. What supported you? What helped you mentally, physically, and emotionally? How can those same tools be used during labor? It's a good place to start! As doulas we are here too, to help you discover that inner strength you already have, to help you know when and how to use the various support options available (including the medical ones!) to your advantage, and also to be there to help encourage you forward during the hardest parts.