Pain is a very positive and productive part of physiological birth. Birth pains are highly functional and necessary for the orchestration of hormones and feedback between yourself and your baby.
Birth is a peak performance event. The muscles of your uterus, and entire body, are doing intensely challenging work for a purpose. While we celebrate the efforts of people running a marathon, we don’t give the same positive encouragement regarding birthing women’s efforts.
The pain of birth is not pathological, it is not indicative of imminent danger, it’s protective and biologically sound.
Our culture doesn’t value the primal nature of birth with its rawness, messiness, wildness and sheer fierce intensity, as an initiation to your body, and, to the magnitude of your capacity not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. Having a birth where you can exclaim proudly – “I did it!” – is the ultimate initiation and foundation for beginning motherhood.
We’ve become increasingly domesticated. It’s embedded in our collective psyche that girls/women don’t get loud, and wild, and moan, groan, scream, howl, grunt, poo, and allow themselves to be shaken by the intensity of birth.
We’ve lost touch with what we gain from being initiated to birth in its unhindered raw physiological trajectory. We would rather be in control than at the mysterious mercy of birth.
With 98% of births happening in hospitals where disease and pathological concerns are the priority, and pain is generally indicative of dysfunction, it can be difficult to shift our perspective toward the challenges of birth being normal and helpful. Paired with overwhelming cultural narratives and conditioning about childbirth being painful, it’s easy to see how, in this setting, the intensity of childbirth becomes the focus that needs to be fixed.
Some sobering statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) Australia’s Mothers and Babies report, 2016:
- 78% of mothers who gave birth in 2016 had pain relief. That’s almost 4 out of 5 women.
- 55% of women chose nitrous oxide (gas and air);
- 36% of women chose regional analgesic (epidurals)
- 17% of women chose systemic opioids (morphine/pethidine)
- 63% of women who opt for an epidural (who don’t birth via c-section) end up having instrumental vaginal deliveries (use of forceps, vacuum etc.)
When you choose to have an epidural, you increase your chance of having other medical and instrumental interventions by well over 50%.
Perhaps you’re determined not to be one of those statistics. You know there is another way, and at some deep level of your being, you believe your body is made to do this.
There is a very delicate but profound potency for innate, natural pain relief when your body’s hormonal orchestration for birth is able to initiate spontaneously and remains uninterrupted. This is physiological birth and it provides the best foundation for having a normal birth experience. Your biological coping mechanisms generally provide you with exactly what you need to journey with the intensity, and pains of childbirth.
When that process is interfered with, especially by induction with syntocinon, birth is forced to begin before your body, and your baby are primed. Presently, 43% of first-time mothers are being induced (The National Core Maternity Indicators report, 2019). With an induction, your coping abilities will be less than usual, and therefore less optimal. This may necessitate you requiring pain relief in the form of an epidural which you otherwise may not have needed. Induced labour contractions are experienced very differently to labour that has started spontaneously, when you’re biologically ready. Induction with syntocinon hijacks the delicate dance of pain-relieving hormones and can result in the cascade of interventions coming into play. The chance of you requiring instrumental delivery with forceps or vacuum assistance, and/or, a caesarean section can increase by over 50%. The risks and benefits of induction should be carefully considered.
So, you’re up to the heroic path of experiencing your birth in all its intensity and reality?
When birthing women have the freedom to follow their instincts, feel well supported, and are educated on the birth process, they will naturally find their own unique behaviours or things that enable them to cope with the intensity of birth. It might be intensely following their own breathing – breath awareness (we practice this in my prenatal yoga classes, as well as other supportive breathing practices). They find postures that are comfortable and support the pelvis to open and maximise gravity, they may do something very specific – count, or repeat something either out loud or in their head, they may visualise something, or move in a certain way, make loud sounds, even swear (swearing is scientifically proven to reduce your perception of pain!). Then there’s a multitude of “tools” you can have at hand – birth partners who can provide acupressure, massage, hip squeezes, and heat packs, or ice. Other methods that can be helpful – TENS machine, water immersion, sterile water injections, rebozo techniques, and certain positioning (this is not an exhaustive list by the way). Most good antenatal education (that is independent to the hospital) will cover these tools, or if you have a Doula, you will usually cover all this together.
Birth is potent, powerful, intense and transformative, and you CAN do it.
Normal physiological pain during birth indicates your body is working hard and is providing feedback to you and your baby about what’s happening.
Pain is part of the rite of passage of childbirth.
Pain is there to make you aware.
Birthing with Confidence – Rhea Dempsey
Ecstatic Birth (Hormones of Birth) – a free e book – Dr. Sarah Buckley
Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering – Dr, Sarah Buckley
Why Induction Matters – Dr. Rachel Reed
About the author
Clancy is a Doula providing childbirth education services around the Newcastle, Hunter Valley & Central Coast areas of NSW. Clancy is also a mum, with prior professional experience as a Lawyer. Clancy can help you to find your power within the modern medical system, create a sacred container for birth, and find harmony between your intellect and intuition.
Clancy also teaches prenatal yoga and offers her 6-week program ‘Yoga for Empowered Birth’ based on the philosophy of active birth.