• Tertia Alkema

Understanding Pain during Labour and Birth

Updated: 21 hours ago

"Rain, after all is only rain; it is not bad weather.

So also, pain is only pain; unless we resist it, then it becomes torment".

I Ching​

This is most probably what most woman fear in birth…pain.

What is my pain threshold?

Will I be able to do it?

What if?

Understanding why it happens and how best it could be managed, will assist all mothers to have a more positive birthing experience.

Pain in labour is a mixture of physiological changes in the body and emotional experiences. How we react to it and how we perceive it is how we will experience it. Understanding this, allows the mind to work with these sensations and using the tools to our disposal, will allow the mother to manage this amazing working of the body!

But first, what makes labour pain different from any other pain?

· It is not a symptom of an injury or illness: Simply a sign that your body is working hard and well. Uterine muscles are like most muscles in the body, they do not hurt unless they have to work harder and stretch more. The sensation of pain mostly originates in the stretching of the cervix, vagina and surrounding tissues as baby passes through. The uterus gets shorter and pulls the cervical muscle up and out of the way for baby to pass through, very much like a turtleneck sweater being slowly stretched over your head. These are all muscles movements that your body is not used to!

The muscles and ligaments in the pelvic area are supplied with many pressure and pain receptors in the nerves and the stretching produces powerful sensations that are the cause of labour pain.

· It is self-limiting: There is an end to labour. It does not last for ever. Labour rarely takes more than 24 hours. Active labour is usually between 6-12 hours. This is when you will start working harder.

· It is rhythmic: Contractions last no longer than a minute or so and come in a regular pattern with one to several (usually) pain-free minutes in between them. This means you can predict and prepare for each contraction and rest between them. So clever!

· It intensifies gradually over time: Contractions almost always start off mild and gradually grow longer, stronger, and closer together, thus allowing you time to adapt.

But, having said all this, our bodies have wonderful pain control systems that allow our bodies to naturally deal with how we interpret the pain.

They are: The gate control theory, Endorphin release and Oxytocin release.


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