What Childbirth Feels Like

Pain level during childbirth is different for every woman, depending on many different factors ranging from health conditions, nutrient deficiencies, to stress level. Childbirth does however have some distinctive sensations:

Wavelike uterine tightening
Contractions occur when the vertical uterine muscles contract. Like your bicep muscle when you flex it, your uterine muscles shorten and thicken during each contraction, gently nudging baby further down the birth canal.
Not surprisingly, many women describe contractions as a tightening, pulling, or cramping sensation in the belly lasting for about 60 seconds during active labor, then releasing at the cessation of each contraction. The tightening is wavelike. It grows steadily in strength, reaching a peak, before receding back down. The tightening sensation can be dull or sharp feeling, and will usually radiate from the uterus traveling around the back and pubic area during the contraction.
During contractions it’s important to relax the muscles in the pelvic area. This will lessen the tightening sensation, and allow the labor to progress more efficiently.

Back pain
We tend to think of labor pain as occurring in the belly, but for those birthing with a posterior positioned baby, the back pain can be more intense than the contractions. This back pain can also be more constant than the periodical pain of contractions, as the baby may constantly press on the mothers spine throughout the birth.
There are many effective techniques for managing back labor. These focus on either repositioning baby in a more comfortable position for the mother, relieving pressure on the mothers spine, or massaging and relieving her sore muscles.
Recommended position for alleviating back-pain
during "back-labour" (posterior positioned baby)

Pain in other areas
Because childbirth can last a long time other areas of the body, especially those that aren’t usually used, may ache from over use. In particular legs, hips, and the rectal areas may begin to ache. This is another reason why relaxation is essential in childbirth. Muscle tension due to stress wears out muscles, providing no benefit, unlike the beneficial muscular contractions of the uterus. By relaxing muscles, birthing women are able to conserve much needed energy for the uterus, where it is really needed.
Staying well nourished and hydrated is also crucial to efficient muscle function. Without important nutrients such as water, sugar, salt, calcium, magnesium, and potassium, muscles begin to fatigue, then inflame, resulting in pain. Providing birthing women with a nourishing drink such as ‘Laborade’ is an excellent way to ensure muscles have the nutrients to go the distance.

Rectal pressure
As baby descends you will feel strong rectal pressure, like you need to pass a stool. Many women may go to the toilet at this stage thinking that they need to pass a stool, only to find there is none. Instead the rectal pressure continues to get stronger and stronger as baby descends, until finally the baby emerges. So if you feel like you need to poop, it‘s a great sign baby is descending well.
Bearing down
During the second stage of labor, when baby’s head has fully passed through the cervix, you’ll begin to feel an instinctive urge to bear down. Many women describe bearing down as a relief, providing some measure of control and alleviating the pain of contractions. The realization that baby is almost out is very exciting, the atmosphere in the room really livens up at this stage.

Stretching and burning
When baby is crowning it is typical to feel a stretching and burning sensation around the opening of the vagina. Tearing the perineum is a common concern for birthing women, but ironically it’s that fear experienced during crowning that may cause the perineum to tear. It‘s crucial during crowning to fully relax the pelvic muscles to avoid tearing or restricting baby’s oxygen supply.

During childbirth the body produces massive amounts of oxytocin and endorphins, hormones that typically dull pain and make you feel euphoric and sedated. As birth progresses the body produces increasing amounts of these hormones, resulting in an experience known as a ‘birth high’. This ‘high’ helps the mother cope with pain, and when baby is finally born, helps mother and baby to bond. The hormones can sometimes make women feel a little out of control, while other women sink into the experience and describe feeling very centered. It’s important for women to relax and know that this experience is normal and beneficial.

It’s well known that birth can be physically exhausting, with a large chunk of that exhaustion attributed to stress related tension. With the onset of a contraction a common reaction is to tense in preparation for the pain, which ironically increases the sensation of pain and uses up vital energy reserves in the process. When bearing down in the second phase of labour, again a common reaction is to tense and strain muscles. While the second phase may be slightly shortened by this mode of action, it increases the risk of tissue trauma, fetal hypoxia, and most definitely contributes to exhaustion. To counteract the tendency to tense muscles, techniques that focus on relaxing muscles can be used. Water birth is well known to relax muscles, along with hypnotherapy, positive affirmations, massage, and acupressure. Creating a calm, stress free environment is also key.
Birthing women may also experience mental exhaustion. It can take extreme amounts of mental effort to consciously relax tensed muscles, or focus the mind on something other than the pain. The tears and smiles when baby is born aren’t just about the beautiful baby, they’re also prompted by relief, knowing the mammoth task is finally over. Like physical exhaustion, mental exhaustion can be reduced by practicing relaxation techniques, such as hypnotherapy and positive affirmations, throughout pregnancy and birth. Supporters can help a birthing mother by giving her abundant encouragement and praise, guiding her through her relaxation techniques, reassuring her when she becomes doubtful, and ensuring the atmosphere in the room remains calm and stress free.

by Amanda Greavette 
The beauty of birth
For many women birth is the most painful experience they’ve been through, but also the most amazing and beautiful experience. It has been described as “the most beautiful pain ever felt”. A birthing woman’s body provides her with painkilling hormones, giving her the ability to experience both intense pleasure and pain at the same time. When baby finally emerges, the pain subsides and she is left with a cocktail of hormones, a euphoric birth high, imprinting her baby’s face in her memories forever. The experience is passionate, instinctive and powerful.

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