I’m happy to be pregnant, and I can’t wait to finally meet my baby, but I’m scared to death of labor! I’ve watched movies and birth shows, and it looks just horrible. Is it really that bad? I’m afraid of tearing and stretching from the baby coming out, too. Please help me feel more confident about this!
It’s normal to be scared of something unknown, especially if it involves your body and the thought of undergoing pain. First, let’s talk about what causes labor pain. The uterus is the strongest muscle in the human body. During pregnancy, its job is to hold your baby inside like an upside-down drawstring purse. During labor its muscle fibers undergo a powerful change from “baby holding” to “baby ejection” one. Your uterus doesn’t actually have any nerve endings — the pain is the muscles that attach and surround the uterus being strained.
Labor pain usually starts with these muscles tightening- instead of your uterus feeling soft like the tip of your nose, it’ll feel very firm. (See more about how to tell the difference between Braxton-Hicks, or ‘practice’ contractions, from labor contractions at this link.) The upside to labor pain is that unlike the constant pain from an injury or an accident, labor pain comes in waves with breaks in between. Contractions can start out as far apart as 15 minutes, then will get gradually closer together over the course of hours. The most similar thing that comes to mind is food poisoning, but with waves of menstrual-cramp-like pain instead of nausea. And personally, we’d prefer labor to food poisoning.
Also remember that if you’re giving birth in a hospital you can ask for an epidural any time. Epidurals take the pain away completely- they’re pretty magical that way. And plenty of women take a wait-and-see approach for labor pain, and find that the pain, while certainly not fun, exactly, is tolerable.
Anyway, the final part of birth, pushing the baby out, is actually not painful at all, even without an epidural. The pressure of the baby’s head will numb most vaginal sensation, and if you’ve declined the pain meds then birthing the baby usually feels like a huge relief. Tearing is pretty unusual these days because most doctors and midwives perform an episiotomy, which is a cut to widen the vaginal opening. It sounds horrible, but even with no pain relief medications at all you won’t feel it, because of the numbing effect from the pressure of the baby.
So is it so bad? Let’s just say it’s intense, but it’s also survivable, and treatable with pain relief medications if necessary, and also temporary. And while you’re going through it, you won’t be freaking out or scared because you’ll be too busy being in labor. So bottom line: you’ll be fine, we promise.