Does Labour Really Hurt? Not Always, Apparently

When somebody recalls their labour experience as “easy”, my instinctive response is – to be frank – violence. For me, giving birth was…hellish (although no word in the English language can adequately describe the trauma without being exaggeratedly euphemistic).

Lady in labour

But a recent discussion on FitPregnancy’s Facebook page reveals that the reality of the Big L really is widely different for each woman.

When Valerie Rowekamp’s labour started, “it felt like an annoying case of menstrual cramps”. The intensity increased to the level of “downright uncomfortable”, yet never reached what Valerie would’ve deemed painful. “I was surprised that it never really felt beyond my tolerance level, which is very low,” she said on Facebook.

For Kebuileng Moshoeu, on the other hand, she “thought [she] was going to die” half an hour into showtime. “It was the worst seven hours and 55 minutes of my life,” Kebuileng posted.

According to experts, labour pain does indeed vary dramatically from woman to woman – it’s not just anecdotal. And until you go through childbirth, you won’t know where on the spectrum you’ll fall.

It’s like a sadistic lucky dip. Or a really lucky one.

Labour hurts – like a mother (or not so much, apparently) – based on the strength of your contractions; whether you’ve had labour-inducing drugs, which stimulate stronger contractions; your baby’s size and position in your pelvis; whether she’s face-up or facedown (the ideal birth position); and the speed of your labour.

Besides intense muscle tightening throughout your abdomen and, sometimes, your entire torso and pelvic area, you may feel pressure on your back, perineum, bladder and bowels. “All that combines to ratchet up pain,” says Jay O’Brien, M.D., medical director of inpatient obstetric services at Women and Infants Hospital of Rhode Island (Jay O’Brien, M.D. does not support any medicines).

The upside is that the pain of labour can also vary from pregnancy to pregnancy, so there’s hope. However, a combination of genetics and life experiences determines your ability to withstand said pain – and your inborn tolerance is pretty much fixed; it’s unlikely you can do anything to feel less like the star in an Alien chest-burster scene if that’s your lot in life.

Interestingly, even the positive or negative labour stories you’ve heard can contribute to your perception of pain; so scaring the hang outta mums-to-be with my own story is probably not a good thing…

Sorry about that.

In all seriousness, once babs is out, nothing else matters. It’s totally worth it, and time truly does heal all wounds. Episiotomies included.