How Painful Is Giving Birth?
You've probably heard a lot of stories about giving birth. The experience is very different for each woman. The amount of pain is different for everyone. The kind and amount of pain you have changes throughout your labor.
Why Is Labor Painful?
During labor, your uterus pushes the baby down and stretches the opening of your uterus (cervix). Each time the uterus muscles flex, you may feel pain like a strong cramp. As your cervix and vagina stretch and open, you may feel a stretching, burning pain. Most contractions last 30 to 60 seconds, and you will be able to rest in between.
I Would Like Help With the Pain, But I Don't Want to Use Medicine. What Can I Do?
The flip side of this handout gives lots of tips for coping with the pain of labor. The less tense and afraid you are, the less painful your labor will be. Three things can help you labor successfully without using medications: knowledge about what to expect, belief in yourself, and emotional support and coaching during your labor.
Is There Medicine I Can Take for Pain if I Need It?
There are many types of pain relief available in a hospital. The most common pain medications are narcotics and epidural anesthesia.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Narcotics?
• They give fast pain relief (usually between 2 and 10 minutes).
• Most can be given directly into your bloodstream through an IV.
• They may help you relax and be more comfortable.
• They don't usually slow your labor.
• Narcotics do not last long (usually between 20 and 60 minutes).
• They may cause nausea.
• They may cause you to feel really “out of it” or sleepy.
• They may make the baby sleepy and make it harder for him or her to breathe right after birth or start breastfeeding.
• Narcotics don't take away all of the pain. They may make each contraction less painful.
What Is an Epidural?
An epidural numbs your body from the waist down. It involves putting a needle and then a small flexible tube into a space near the spine in your lower back. The pain medication flows through the tube and you lose feeling in your abdomen and legs. The medication will not make you or your baby feel sleepy or “out of it.” However, you will not be able to walk or get up to go to the bathroom. You may have a harder time pushing your baby out, because you won't be able to feel the contractions.
How Can I Tell Before Labor Starts What Is Right for Me?
• If you plan to give birth in a hospital, you can choose to use pain medicines. First, learn all you can about how much help and what possible problems can occur if you use the pain medicines that are offered where you are going to have your baby. Then ask yourself the questions listed here. The answers will help you decide on the best way for you to keep yourself comfortable during your labor.
• How strong is my desire to give birth without using pain medicines?
• Will I be happier with my birth after it is over if I go through labor without using medicine or will I be happier afterward if I use pain medicines?
• If my labor is normal and I am in more pain than I expected, do I want my helpers to talk me through it or do I want them to offer me pain medicine?
Remember that nobody knows ahead of time how painful or difficult your labor will be. Knowing your desires is the best place to start. Then when you are in labor, you need to be flexible and trust your support persons and caregivers to help you make decisions that are right for your experience then. The flip side of this sheet has some tips for coping with pain in labor.