Is pain in childbirth something to fear?

The most often fear I hear about is pain in childbirth.  It comes across as if the pain is some external force that is larger and badder than any other entity imaginable. I believe the dramatic cable channel birth shows, network tv shows, a very high epidural rate, and the rampant sharing of scary birth stories has done much to reframe what labor and delivery is today.  Though it started way back in our country about 100 years ago with the writings of Joseph DeLee who believed that women needed to be saved from birth.

Pair those with the idea that we are supposed to always feel perfect, never have an ounce of discomfort or pain in our lives (have you seen the Tylenol advertisement that quips “One more step to a pain free world”?), well it sets up an unreasonable expectation and core understanding that there is no way as a woman “I” can handle it and why should “I”?!

I shake my head that women can think we are SO fragile and cannot tolerate or thrive in such a thing as labor and delivery.  We can be fierce, strong, tender, loving, organizational, multi-tasking, boo-boo fixers, community builders, compassionate, change makers, history makers – let alone having the ability to grow a brand new person (even if in our hearts through adoption or other ways).  WOW we are amazing.

Women are all those things and much more.  Believe in the design, abilities, and intuitive nature.

Back to the pain.  So what if it hurts?  It may. It may not.  Sometimes the work of labor means discomfort or pain though it isn’t normally the sort of pain or discomfort that is alarming.  It is powerful.  It is the woman who is making the hormones required to start labor and keep it progressing.  A woman’s body is designed to offer up endorphins to match the increasing strength of the contractions along with oxytocin.  Her own body medications are powerful and can bring a strong degree of relief though they do not change the incredible power that each woman makes and experiences in labor.

Positioning movement can assist in rotating baby into a more comfortable and optimal position such as, pelvic rocks, lunges, swaying on birth ball, stair walking, curb walking, talking to baby, knee chest, advanced sims,  and a woman listening to her body to find the right movement.

Emotional pain need to be recognized and worked through in whatever way serves the laboring woman best.  Obtaining an epidural will usually not quash emotional pain and may increase it.  If fear creeps in, contractions can become painful.  Addressing the issue at hand, having support around you to, and making the space her own can help.

If at the hospital and there is something happening that is infringing on the mother’s rights or is antagonistic, she may want to consider asking for another nurse or doctor to come in and help the situation and/or seek out the patient advocate.

When it comes to physical pain or discomfort a variety of techniques can be employed. Some of these are – position changes, getting into tub or shower, hot and/or cold compresses, having a doula present, snacking and drinking in labor, refusing routine interventions, massage, visualization, vocalizations, prayer, meditation, relaxation, hypnotherapy, listening to music, soothing smells, visuals, and textures, having supportive people including care provider and using a birth ball.

If another woman shares an incredibly painful birth story, ask questions.  Was she induced? In bed the whole time? Lacking support? Lacking education? Poor baby position?  Augemented labor? Was she scared? Did she feel empowered? In a stressful environment?  Questions that will help understand where the pain came from.

Women can do ANYTHING for a minute at a time culminating in hours after the many months of growing and nourishing a baby on the inside. The work of labor and delivery also can bring a sense of comfidence and ability into mothering her baby on the outside.   Easy it will likely not be, but anything worth something requires effort, steadfastness, and often discomfort.  It is in that place we grow and show what we are made of.

Be confident.  Women are strong!


  1. Dagmar Bleasdale [Dagmar's momsense] on August 8, 2009 at 10:24 am

    I wasn’t afraid of labor pain, and that is why I think I made it through natural, drug-free labor. I thought of contractions as just that, contractions — like strong menstrual cramps. And I knew what they felt like. Everything that my body was doing was what needed to happen do bring that little boy into the word, and I welcomed it. With that attitude, I had an “easy” labor. I wish more women would really educate themselves more during pregnancy, about what to expect, because then it’s half as bad when you know what is going to happen. I am a passionate advocate for natural birth and (extended) breastfeeding and write about it often on my blog,
    Thanks for this article!

  2. Dagmar Bleasdale [Dagmar's momsense] on August 8, 2009 at 10:30 am

    I didn’t think of labor pain as pain but contractions, and that kind of attitude allowed me to have a great natural birth experience. I thought of them as strong menstrual cramps. Everything my body was doing was necessary to bring that little boy into the world, and I welcomed it. I wish women would do more research and really learn what happens in your body when you are giving birth, then they would be more prepared and less likely to ask for intervention. I am a passionate natural birth and breastfeeding advocate and write about it at my blog, I hope to empower women when it comes to natural birth, breastfeeding, attachment parenting and more.

    Thanks for this article!

  3. Nichol (faedemere) on January 11, 2010 at 10:06 am

    I took a HypnoBirthing class when I was pregnant with my 1st son and their approach toward the “pain” was so unique it forever changed my perception of the sensations of labor.
    For me it was much more like the ache associated with hard physical endeavors such as running a marathon, than with the pain of injury, which is what I believe most women equate labor sensations with.
    In my 2nd labor I experienced an even bigger shift in perception when I was able to have a greater measure of control over the sensations I felt, again with the help of hypnosis.
    In my 3rd labor I don’t remember feeling what most would call “pain” at all! It was a water birth so being in the tub of hot water really transformed the sensations of laboring for me.
    All in all the only true pain I felt with all 3 was at the point of crowning with my 1st when I tore slightly, and during the external version needed with labor #2.
    I truly believe pain in labor is partly due to perception and fear. If a woman is prepared and educated for labor correctly and her fears are dealt with adequately that sensation of pain is greatly reduced!