Objective To investigate the memory of labour pain at 2 months, 1 year and 5 years after childbirth and its association with the use of epidural analgesia and overall evaluation of childbirth.
Design Longitudinal observational.
Setting All hospitals in Sweden.
Population One thousand three hundred eighty-three women, who were recruited at their first antenatal visit and who provided complete data up to 5 years after the birth.
Methods Postal questionnaires in the second trimester and 2 months, 1 year and 5 years after the birth.
Main outcome measures Memory of labour pain measured by a seven-point rating scale (1 = no pain at all, 7 = worst imaginable pain).
Results Memory of labour pain declined during the observation period but not in women with a negative overall experience of childbirth. Women who had epidural analgesia reported higher pain scores at all time points, suggesting that these women remember ‘peak pain’.
Conclusions There was significant individual variation in recollection of labour pain. In the small group of women who are dissatisfied with childbirth overall, memory of pain seems to play an important role many years after the event. These findings challenge the view that labour pain has little influence on subsequent satisfaction with childbirth. In-labour pain and long-term memory of pain are discussed as two separate outcomes involving different memory systems.