Pregnancy - Is Labor a Pain?

It's grand fodder for comedy movies, and brings heartwrenching drama to hospital soap operas. The pain of labor - the mother screaming in agony as she brings a new child into the world.

But just how painful is it really?

The Background

In a world that has the Worlds Greatest Strongmen grunting and straining lifting multi-hundred-pound rocks and pulling busses with their teeth, that has football tackles replayed over and over, the trials of labor still seem to take on a special scariness for many. Why is this?

First, until the 1900s, childbirth was a truly dangerous and poorly understood series of events. Many women died in childbirth, and many more became very ill afterwards. Depending on the culture, the woman could be fed any number of helpful or non-helpful items, be put into a position that was truly harmful to the child, and locked off from any emotional support. It is only in the past 30 or 40 years that some of these situations truly changed.

Second, women have often been considered the 'weaker sex'. While men went out and played rough, taking pain with a shrug, women were protected and sheltered. Women didn't play football or hockey, they sewed by the fire and petted their cats. Even studies done today with infants show that people treat a girl infant differently than a boy infant, being more gently and tender with it.

It's no wonder, then that we've built up a culture of fear around labor. Even though a vast number of women choose to go through it several times after their first child, it's still thought to be heart-wrenchingly painful, something that only the most exceptional woman could endure. Obviously it can't be THAT bad, otherwise every family would have one and only one child!

The Reality

First, labor pains are different from woman to woman. For some, they're low, stretching sorts of pain - sort of if you tried to touch your toes and stretched a little too far. For others, they're more sharp, sort of like when you have a gas bubble in your stomach and it's working its way out.

Labor length of time itself is also variable. Some women have labor for an hour or two and are done! Others have labor for a day or more.

Remember, though, this isn't "something is wrong!" pain, like when you accidentially jab yourself in the rib with your rake handle. It's your body doing something that it's made to do, that it's been primed to do for the past few months. Your body is stretching. Sure, it can be uncomfortable - sometimes sharply so. But if you're running a marathon, it's uncomfortable too. You can have stabbing pains in your feet, or throbbing aches in your legs. You can be watching for that finish line, hoping it's soon. But it won't stop you from running that next marathon next year! It's just the normal exertion for the task.

If you were hauling boxes from moving, you'd expect to be sore. If you were doing serious yard work, you'd feel those aches and pains, but you'd get the job done. This is the same thing!

I remember when I was giving birth, and heard someone crying in labor in the next room. The nurse I was with actually rolled her eyes and said the woman in the other room didn't even know what was going on with her body! That the only time she'd ever heard women cry was when they were scared and didn't know what was happening to them. It was a fear reaction, not a pain reaction.

My own labor was a few hours, had low, throbbing sensations and near the end a few sharper ones. I tore a bit, but I'm sure every woman who goes into labor has had far more serious bruises and cuts than the tiny tears that labor causes! The pain was definitely along the lines of "I can finish this run if I keep going" and not of the boxing-match level that some movies lead you to believe.

And again, much of that has to do with attitude. If the mom tenses and fights, the body isn't pliable, and it becomes a 'fight with yourself' in which only you can be the loser. If the mom relaxes, the muscles relax, and everything becomes relatively quick and easy.

Like all physical exertion, you can get through labor the easiest if you're in shape. Bodies that are well taken care of, exercised, have lots of sleep and good nutrition handle pregnancy easily. The muscles flex and bend, the skin stretches properly, the brain takes in what's going on and reacts well.

So the best thing you can do for yourself is to sleep a lot, eat very well, and exercise appropriately right up until the end. Then go into the final days with a marathoner's mentality. You might feel it down the home stretch, but look what's waiting for you at the finish line!

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