The Truth About Pain and/or Discomfort in Childbirth

I use both words “pain” and “discomfort” because neither word accurately describes what every woman feels.  Some feel no pain or discomfort at all!  I felt sheer pain during my first (hospital) birth.  I wouldn’t classify the sensations I felt as pain with my subsequent births (birthcenter and homebirth) though.  They were very different.  There were many factors involved in my first birth that I believe had a huge impact on how intense things were during labor and birth.  (For my birth stories see my book Empowered To Birth Naturally: One Woman’s Journey to Homebirth , available through )

No one likes pain and/or discomfort.  Pain or discomfort usually signals a problem that needs to be fixed.  The discomfort (or pain) experienced in labor is different.  These sensations are very productive.  A woman does not need to be rescued from it because it actually aids the process of labor and birth.

A woman needs to be able to feel the contractions for a number of reasons.  For one, the brain tells the body to release the “love” hormone oxytocin.  When oxytocin is released and it acts as an endorphin, making contractions a lot more bearable.  Also, a woman in labor needs to be in tune with her body as it knows how to give birth and will direct her movements without her even thinking about it.  Women in labor who are not hindered by interventions will move, walk, rock, dance, sway, get on all fours sit on the toilet and more. All of these things can really help get baby into the birth canal much easier and quicker.  So, her body not only produces it’s own “epidural” but it tells her what to do to help things move along as well.  When it’s time to push, no one needs to tell her.  Her body simply pushes.  When the baby is born and she nurses her baby, more oxytocin is produced and she is not only able to take advantage of the small window of opportunity to bond with her baby after the birth but that oxytocin helps her to contract and expel the placenta.  There’s a whole lot more going on but that’s for another blog.

The woman who is drugged, misses out on quite a bit.  First, she’s given Pitocin- the synthetic version of oxytocin.  It does the job of getting contractions going but the synthtic version isn’t coming from transmitters in the brain,  that “epidural like” hormone to help the woman cope with the contractions doesn’t come into the picture at all.  Pitocin induced contractions are then far more painful (and not as effective) than natural contractions and the woman is left climbing the walls and feeling desparate for relief.  So, she gets the epidural.  This may or may not relieve the pain but lets say it does.  She is still contracting but feels nothing.  That’s great except for the fact that the love hormone isn’t working and she feels nothing.  No love, no contractions, no urge to push, or pee- nothing. Not only can the pitocin can cause fetal distress which leads to cesareans but the epidural can also cause spinal headaches and backaches that last far longer than labor and birth.  Also, a woman given pitocin before birth will need an additional dose of pitocin after birth in order to help expel the placenta.

Another thing about pitocin.  It’s an off label drug.  Ask your provider what the drug was made for and what risks are involved with using it.  Ask to read the label.  One of the side effects happens to be that it can cause contractions but that’s not the use it was intended for.   Unfortunately some providers have been known to order nurses to “pit to distress” meaning give the maximum amount of pitocin in order to cause fetal distress so we can do an emergency cesarean and get out of here.

We need to ask more questions and become more informed in order to ensure our safety and that of our babies.

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