How much pain is childbirth?
How much pain is childbirth? I believe that's the question every expecting mother has in mind as the due date approaches. However, it's a topic that is hardly discussed in books about pregnancy and childbirth. Even if you ask your friends or relatives who have given birth, you'll receive a wide range of answers. This is because the pain of childbirth depends on each individual's experience. Some may say it was a terrible, excruciating pain, while others may say it was quite manageable. So, let us now explore the factors that influence the pain sensation during birth and, more importantly, discover what is the very first step you can do to reduce the pain when your baby arrives!
Now, let's get back to our initial question in the title: How much pain is childbirth? Well, just as we are all individuals, also our birth experiences can vary greatly. There are fast labors, long labors, complicated births, and easy births end so on, and so on…. Similarly to the rhytm and speed of birh, also the sensation of pain can differ – hugely! Approximately 1% of women retrospectively claim, that childbirth was pain-free. For these lucky ones, it may be deeply coded in their genes, or they may have applied self-hypnosis techniques at an extremely deep level. In some other cases, professional acupuncture has also been known to eliminate the pain of birth.
Around 2 to 7% of mothers describe birth as painful, but not overly so and they found it to be quite manageable. These women may have special genes too or they may approach birth with a fearless and open mind.However, for the majority of women (85-96%), giving birth is the biggest physical challenge of their lives, and the pain sensation can be very intense.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are approximately 1 to 5% of mothers who are not just saying that the pain sensation is very intense, but they really experience excruciating pain during birth. In most cases, these women may be survivors of abuse or have extreme fear of childbirth. Sometimes, the baby's position in the pelvis can also increase pain seriously, such as when the baby's back is towards the mother's back, known as the Occiput Posterior position. If the baby enters the pelvis in this OP position, the hard skull of the baby pushes against the sacrum during contractions and this may cause very intense pain, which sometimes remain even in between the contractions.
It's also helpful to understand which part of giving birth is associated with more pain. Logically, the descent of the baby through the vagina and emergence through the vulva should be more painful compared to the first stage of birth, when "only" the uterus is working. However, only one out of four women describe this part as more painful, than the first stage. Women typically find the pushing stage easier, as they can finally actively contribute. Even for those who find the second stage more difficult, the very painful sensation is reduced to the crowning and emergence, which phases are usually short and are immediately followed by moments of extreme joy when their baby is finally in their arms.
Now, let's discuss the pain sensation during labor, specifically during the dilation stage. Please don't imagine that this is the highest level of pain lasting for hours on end. Most spontaneously onset labor start with mild, period cramp-like pain sensation, gradually increasing and reaching its peak during the last one or two centimeters of dilation. And even in this case, nature still provides a minute or two of break between the strongest contractions to make birth a bit easier and bearable….
But enough about statistics and the speculation which part of giving birth might be more challenging in your specific case! The best news is that you have a tool to seriously reduce your pain sensation and improve your overall experience. This tool is none other than preparation, and by preparation, I mean childbirth education. Because how can education and information reduce your pain? When you know more about birth, you fear it less and feel more confident. This key step helps you break out of the fear cycle during birth, which is like a negative emotional circle, that simply increases pain. How? Fear causes tension in your body, and tension intensifies the pain sensation which may intensify the fears too…. However, if you can transform your fears into healthy curiosity and self-confidence, you've already won part of the battle! Fear often stems simply from the unknown, so arming yourself with real knowledge about childbirth will reduce or even eliminate your fears! And when you understand what your body is doing and the options available to you, you empower yourself to shape your birth journey according to your personal values.
But education not only reduces fears but also equips you with coping tools and strategies that you and your partner can practice well before birth. If your partner is also prepared, he or she can provide valuable support and learn a few doula tricks in advance to help reduce your pain! I recently listened to a podcast where a partner was so well-prepared that he even managed to change the baby's posterior position by guiding the mother into specific labor positions! This partner was able to significantly reduce the mother's pain – just because he was so well prepared!
Lastly, it's worth mentioning that medical interventions often increase pain. A painful pelvic check, Pitocin, artificial rupture of membranes, can directly increase pain, while a saline lock or continuous electronic monitoring reduces mobility, consequently increasing the pain level. However, if you're educated and well-informed, you can make your own choices about your care. You can either limit painful medical interventions or consider alternatives which do not increase pain during birth.
So one of the key to reduce your pain sensation during birth is in your hands! Get prepared for your birth, shape your birth according to your values and preferences, dare to own your birth!