For most women in the Western world, childbirth is painful. Most women feel pain during childbirth ranging from mild discomfort to honest-to-goodness pain. Only a few women say they had no pain at all. One mother giving birth to her third child actually laughed throughout her whole labour. But this is uncommon.
In fact, women having their first child may be taken aback by just how painful it is, especially when they have attended prenatal classes or read prenatal books which used euphemisms for pain like "intensity", "discomfort", or "hard work". Women may then feel like failures because they experienced serious pain during labour.
After your first birth, it does not necessarily get easier. However, your labour usually gets shorter, and your coping skills do improve with practice.
"One of the most important duties that a childbirth professional has is to present to women a realistic picture of birth," says author and childbirth expert, Gayle Peterson, in her book, BIRTHING NORMALLY (Mindbody Press, 1984). "To protect a woman from the concept of pain in childbirth," says Peterson, "is to leave her without preparation for coping."
Peterson believes that women can learn to face their fears about pain, trust their bodies, and yield to the incredible power and strength of the contractions that will birth the baby.
Once a woman comes to terms with the fact that childbirth will be painful, she and her partner can develop a practical plan to cope with the pain and work with it.
What Is The Pain Like ?
Most women describe labour as starting with mild contractions, like menstrual cramps, and proceeding progressively to the strong and painful contractions of the later part of the first stage and transition. Some women start off right away with strong contractions and never get milder ones.
However, there is not always a direct relationship between how much pain you feel and how fast your labour is progressing. Indeed, the early contractions may feel quite painful, but as you learn to work with the pain, the later contractions may seem easier to handle.
Each woman gives a different description of what the pain actually feels like. Some compare it to an ocean wave slowly gathering momentum from the depths of the ocean, building to its maximum height and force, and then crashing to the shore. Between waves there is stillness and calm.
Childbirth pain, whether sharp or aching, starts slowly, builds to a peak, and then slowly subsides. Between contractions you usually feel no pain. This pause is a good time to take two deep breaths, one for you and one for the baby, and close your eyes and enter into a relaxed state where you can replenish your strength.
Active Labour And Birth
Contractions during the active phase of labour command your full and undivided attention. A woman in active labour has flushed cheeks, and will not talk or laugh during contractions; choosing instead to concentrate on the contractions and her breathing.
The contractions usually slowly build in strength and come more often, and last longer, until the cervix is completely opened up and thinned out. Toward the end of the first stage of labour, there may be a period of time when the contractions seem almost unbearable.
Between the time the cervix is fully opened up and the start of the pushing contractions of the second stage of labour, there may be a pause of between 15 minutes and hour. "Rest and give thanks," advises renowned childbirth educator Sheila Kitzinger.
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