Pain in Labor

Peggy O'Mara
12 min readMay 23

Tried and true non-drug labor soothers

Photo by RyanJLane

It’s safe to say that the №1 worry for most pregnant women is pain during labor. Secretly, you ask yourself,

“Will I be able to handle it?”

But it’s hard to know if you’ll be able to handle something you’ve never experienced before, especially when the cultural messages about birth in the US do not inspire confidence.

It’s understandable that you might be afraid of the unknown, but your experience of pain in labor may be more within your control than you think.

The amount of pain you feel during labor is affected by your perceptions of pain in general, and your beliefs about pregnancy and birth in particular. A supportive environment during pregnancy can help you to change these perceptions so that you feel ready for a normal birth.

Why does it hurt?

Photo by Sakurra

But what is labor pain like, anyway? Its nature is so couched in mystery and overdramatized by the media that you may be terrified of it.

Pain in labor is the result of the dilation of the lower, narrow portion of the uterus, called the cervix. The cervix, a fibromuscular organ, must open to a diameter of 10 centimeters (or thereabouts) in order to allow the baby to pass through.

In labor, the job of the cervix is to stretch from an opening the size of the tip of your nose to an opening the size of a circle drawn on the palm of your hand. No wonder you feel a stinging sensation as this is happening.

This dilation of the cervix happens gradually and rhythmically. During a normal childbirth, the contractions that stretch the cervix last for only 45 to 90 seconds, and peak in intensity at about 30 seconds.

There are breaks between contractions during which there is no pain at all, so, in fact, at least 50% of labor is pain free.

The reason you can have confidence in your ability to handle these contractions is because of their rhythmic nature and the fact that you only have to handle one at a time!

Labor stings

Peggy O'Mara

Peggy O’Mara is an award winning journalist. She was the Editor and Publisher of Mothering Magazine for over 30 years. Her focus is Family, Health, and Justice.