Does Birth Hurt? The Answer Might Surprise YouJan 11, 2023
by Stephanie Larson
Does birth hurt? You might assume that the answer is an obvious and emphatic―Yes!
On TV and in the movies, birth is mostly portrayed as a very scary, torturously painful emergency from the moment the water breaks or the first contraction happens. Every scene needs conflict for dramatic purposes, and birth scenes get a lot. But in reality, labor doesn’t usually go from zero to sixty like that, and lots of people don’t even realize they’re in labor until it’s practically over. You’ve probably also heard a real-life scary birth story―or ten. Maybe you’ve even been advised to “Get your epidural in the parking lot” before you get to the hospital (that’s not a thing, by the way). All of this can really freak you out about how much it will hurt when you give birth! But maybe we’re asking the wrong question. Maybe instead of asking “Does birth hurt?” we should be asking “Can birth be pleasurable?”
If you lived on a deserted island your whole life you wouldn’t have to “debrief” before giving birth.
But since you don’t (or if you do can I come visit?) you’ll need to shed all the many layers of fear about birth that you’ve accumulated throughout your life, because this fear can actually cause you physical pain. Fear can lead to physical tension, physical tension can lead to pain, and pain can lead to fear…in a loop that goes around and around. This fear-tension-pain cycle doesn’t help you during birth.
It’s natural to wonder how much birth will hurt, but what if instead, as you prepare to give birth, you enter a state of wonder? What if instead of assuming birth will cause you suffering, you could release the fear of pain and instead be curious and open to possibility. “What will birth be like? What sensations will I feel? What will I discover about myself?” Imagine how much birth can teach you about your innermost self, your fortitude, and your essential qualities. What will the experience reveal to you about your connection with your baby? If you have a significant other, how will your partnership evolve and grow? Birth can absolutely be a peak experience in your life.
Asking if birth hurts is kind of like asking “Does sex hurt?”
It depends on a lot of factors, right? Have you been looking forward to it or dreading it? Did you wait until your body gave all the signs of readiness, or not? Are you in a place where you feel safe? Are you in your power? Do you know how to communicate and stand up for your needs? Do you love and feel connected with your body? Who are you with? Is it who you want to be with? Are you taking it at your own pace? Are all your senses delighted? Are you in private? Or are you being interrupted? Can you get into the flow and stay there? Are you moving your body to find what’s pleasurable to you? Are you being told or forced to do anything you don’t want to do? Are you being prevented from doing something you want to do? Are you tense or scared? Are you fully present in the moment? These same factors can affect how your birth feels to you.
Birth doesn’t have to be painful.
One way to decrease fear and to bring maximal pleasure to your birth is to tune in to your body and let it lead you. Move in ways that bring you comfort, ease, and pleasure. When you listen to your body and move accordingly you’re also responding to your baby’s signal for you to change positions and move in specific ways. For example, if lying on your back in bed makes your back hurt and you get up and lean forward to relieve the pain, this allows your sacrum (the back of your pelvis) to open more fully to provide more space for your baby. It’s useful to feel the sensations of labor, and let them guide you, instead of numbing them with an epidural and becoming immobile and confined to bed.
During labor, your baby needs to perform specific moves.
They need to descend into and rotate through your pelvis, and you can assist them with that. Being up on your feet allows you to harness gravity to your advantage, to help your baby move down and out. Hip sways, pelvic rocking, and pelvic circling can be very beneficial and enjoyable. Labor can become about release and pleasure instead of strain and pushing. Birth is a dance that you and your baby do together. You each have your part―and you get to pick your back-up dancers (your birth team). You and your baby have primal birth instincts which will guide you.
Birth can be pleasurable.
When you're in labor your body sends you hormones of love, euphoria, and bonding. Oxytocin is often called the love and bonding hormone, and it’s also the hormone that makes your uterus contract to birth your baby. When you give birth, and especially if you don’t get an epidural or other medication, your body releases large quantities of oxytocin which make you feel blissful and full of love. It also releases endorphins, which are your body’s natural pain relievers, and these make you feel incredible euphoria and happiness during birth. So does birth hurt? It might, but birth can also be the best feeling you’ve ever had in your life!