Whether your pregnancy has been blissful or you just can’t wait for it to be over, the birthing process is inevitable, as is the pain of labour. Natalie Nelson helps new moms to explore what type of pain to expect during labour and how to manage it.
You may have loved every moment of watching your baby bump grow from being just a tiny thought, all the way to feeling like you have swallowed an entire watermelon! But now the time is approaching that this little miracle will be making their grand entrance into this crazy, beautiful world.
Whether you’ve opted for vaginal delivery or a Caesarean section you know that there will be pain, but did you know that it’s manageable? Let’s take a closer look at what labour pain is and the various pain relief options available to moms in labour.
During labour, the muscles in your uterus begin contracting slowly, steadily and with increasing intensity. This pain is felt as strong cramping in the abdomen, pelvis and back area. Other causes of pain during labour include the incredible pressure that your baby’s head exerts on your bladder and bowels as it descends, and the stretching of the birth canal and the vagina. These are all normal and natural responses to the process of birthing a baby.
Every woman in labour perceives and feels pain very differently. Some experience its intensity as similar to menstrual cramps; others experience severe pressure, and some experience extremely strong waves that feel like diarrhoeal cramps. We know that the pain is intense and cannot truly be avoided, so how do we manage it?
Managing labour pains during vaginal delivery
The first step to managing pain happens before labour actually begins. It’s a mental thing – working on the thought that pain, fear and tension are all linked will encourage you to understand that when you are fearful, the body tenses. When the body tenses, breathing becomes shallower, diminishing oxygen intake; muscles become rigid and pain is exacerbated. This becomes a vicious cycle because with the increasing pain, the fear increases and the tension increases. If we look at this logically, the converse would also be true. The less fear you experience, the more relaxed you’ll be, the better you’ll breathe, and the less tense your body will be. Pain will not go away completely, but it won’t be worse than what it should be.
The key is to ‘make friends’ with the pain and embrace it, understanding that it is part of the process of birthing a baby, and that it will not last forever. Labour pains are not constant – they come in waves, with time to rest and recover between each contraction.
There are other things that can also be done to limit the pain from being any worse than what it should be.
- not lying on your back during labour (which makes it harder to push your baby out)
- creating a stress-free birth environment (calm and respectful)
- not having an induction or augmentation (unless medically indicated)
- using natural pain management options
- using the services of a doula
- staying well hydrated
- having a good support system
We’ll look at pain management a little further on.
Pain relief is not just for mommies opting for a vaginal birth. Caesarean mommies (whether elective or emergency C-section) need their pain medication too, particularly post operatively. It’s vitally important to do so, because remember that a Caesar is in fact major abdominal surgery. Dr Mark Zakowski from the California Society of Anaesthesiologists, and author of C-Sections: How To Avoid, Prepare For And Recover From Your Caesarean, reports that failing to take pain medication after a Caesarean because we want to ‘tough it out’ can be a major cause for long-term chronic pain. The spinal cord is a very interesting part of the body, and part of how chronic pain develops has to do with spinal cord memory: once certain neural tracts in the spinal cord have been sensitised to the presence of pain, the pain gets remembered, setting up the possibility of a continuing cycle. Essentially, the less pain that is experienced early on after the surgery, the less the likelihood of developing chronic pain in the long term.
Another factor to consider is that when you are not in pain, you are far more relaxed, and you will be able to enjoy baby and foster a stronger bond sooner. Being pain-free allows you to be comfortable and move around more easily.
Pain relief methods
Now that we understand where the pain is coming from, and acknowledge that the intensity is very often fear-based, let’s have a look at the options available for pain relief.
As painful as you may anticipate it to be, there are ways to manage the pain and to rather focus on your baby’s birth as the exciting and empowering journey that it is. Embrace it and enjoy it, and before you know it, your new baby will be in your arms.