Cassandra Wilson from Healing Horizon for Emotional Energy Healing asks, “Does giving birth have to be painful?”
The simple answer is, “NO, but for most women it is.”
No one actually knows why labor feels painful. There are many theories. It’s sort of like what causes period cramps and why do some women feel period cramps and others not?
The part of labor that is mostly “painful” is the contractions of the uterus which pull back on the cervix to dilate it. The uterus is the strongest muscle in the human body so when it gets going, it’s pretty powerful. The brain interprets these intense sensations as pain.
Some women either naturally don’t feel pain at all or deliberately work to mentally and physically relieve the pressure and interpret the sensations positively instead of as pain. I’m not saying it’s an easy thing to do. You can’t just say ‘mind over matter’. It’s a lot deeper than that. Some women feel so overwhelmed with positive emotions and endorphins and love that they have an orgasmic birth.
The majority of women however, do feel pain, but let me separate the “good” pain from the “bad” pain. If you think of the natural process of birth ie. animals, tribal people, people who give birth in their home surroundings, the pain is never more than they can handle. A bit of pain can be useful. “Pain with a purpose.”
A bit of pain sends a signal to the brain to produce corticosteroids, which is the hormone that stimulates the baby’s lungs to produce surfactant. Surfactant coats the lungs so that the baby can breathe air when it’s born. Babies born by scheduled cesarean without labor tend to have a slightly higher risk of respiratory problems because they don’t have enough surfactants. Also, a bit of pain can be useful in evolution for letting the mom know something big is happening so she needs to move to a safe place.
The other kind of pain is what I call “bad” pain. It is the kind of pain that is useful in letting us know that something is wrong, you need to do something about it. Think about when you have gotten a massage. The massage therapist presses on a sore point to relieve the pressure. It feels a bit painful, but it feels like a good pain. Then maybe she presses with her nails, or presses on a new injury. That feels like a something-is-wrong pain. You tell her to stop. Or like if you put your hand on a stove. The pain tells you to move. If you didn’t feel the pain, you wouldn’t know to move.
Labor is like that. There’s the normal intense sensation, and then there’s the something-is-wrong pain. The trouble is, as a culture, we have been programmed to believe that labor is supposed to be the most painful thing ever, so we don’t know what to do with that overwhelming intense pain. We just think, get an epidural.
There are a few factors which produce that kind of pain :
1. Being in a not so great position. Lying on your back is probably the most painful position to be in. It’s also the least optimal for the baby’s descent and rotation. In all tribal cultures studied, not a single woman labored on he back. The problem is, that’s the position we always see women giving birth in on TV. And hospitals tend to ask women to labor or birth lying back because the fetal heart monitor works best that way, and it is convenient for the hospital staff. If a woman is listening to the pain as information from her body, she would lie down, say, “oh that’s too painful,” then change to a different position. Some other more comfortable positions might be sitting, kneeling, standing or even lying on the side.
2. Another factor is having a labor that is induced or augmented with artificial oxytocin or prostaglandins. These can make contractions more intense than natural labor, and the uterus may not relax as much in between contractions. Other kinds of interventions can also restrict mom’s movement, disturb her from fully relaxing in between contractions and being able to go inside herself, breathe and focus while she is having contractions. These can cause a greater perception of pain.
3. Another huge factor is what is called the fear-pain cycle. When mothers feel safe, and supported, they’re bodies produce oxytocin effectively and when labor gets going, they produce endorphins. But when moms feel anxious, disturbed, unsafe, stressed or fearful, they produce adrenalins, which inhibit oxytocin, endorphins, and make the sensation of pain feel much more intense. This is telling the body that something is wrong. Mom doesn’t feel safe. This is when labor feels like unbearable pain. Knowing this, Mom and the people supporting her can help reduce her anxiety and help her feel safe and supported.
A lot of research has been done on having a Doula (professional, non-medical labor support) in childbirth. They found that doulas help reduce the need for epidurals, cesareans and instrumental deliveries by about half. The reason for this is that doulas are trained, and focused on reducing moms fear and stress as it comes up, and helping her feel safe, supported and confident in her own abilities. This doesn`t just make for a more pleasant experience. Moms`emotions in labor affect the hormones she produces, which affect the amount of pain she feels as well as whether labor will be smooth or complicated.
I teach a whole in-depth class on how to have less pain in labor, or even no pain, so It can`t be summarized effectively in a post. Let me know if you want to find out about pain-free birth. 604 809 3288.