Guest Author - Maryn Leister
Pain in labor has a purpose. Really.
There are so many ways to view labor pain, whether it is in actual physical/biological terms, or from a more psychological angle. Some see the pain as having a religious, or spiritual purpose. Some women see it as a cultural difference.
In any case, it's helpful to know on a biological, instinctive level why our body needs pain in labor. Thinking of the end result first really helps me appreciate how the body works.
After a natural, non-interventive birth, mom and baby are able to bond and nurse and typically feel really good. If the goal is this kind of scenario, then it is interesting to see how pain actually helps get there.
When labor starts, the pain in usually bearable. As long as a woman feels safe and protected (not as easy as it sounds) then the labor will pick up and as the pain increases, her body will respond by making more and more endorphins, those hormones that keep us feeling good by managing pain and giving us that feeling of “well-being”. The pain alerts mom to the position changes she needs to make to allow her baby the easiest way out.
The pain is truly needed to produce the natural relief that will benefit mom and baby all the way through labor and birth.
Assuming the labor is undisturbed and that the woman feels safe, her body is making the hormone oxytocin the entire time. Oxytocin strengthens contractions (thereby making more endorphins, too) and the peak of oxytocin release happens at birth when the woman connects with her baby and begins to nurse.
So, you need oxytocin to produce contractions, and you need pain to come from the contractions so that your body can release endorphins.
Instead of asking how there can be labor without pain, how about , “What are the biological NEEDS of a woman in labor?”
- laboring in a dark, quiet room with minimal talking and little interruption
- feeling comfortable and safe with those in the room
- to be in whatever position she needs to be
- to NOT be induced (synthetic oxytocin, Pitocin, does not cross blood/brain barrier-it causes the uterus to contract but does not allow your body to deal with the pain)
- to be free from epidurals or other artificial pain relief that makes the body STOP producing endorphins (bad for mom AND baby).
The high level of endorphins at birth make mom alert and welcoming to her baby, and without these, mom and baby may not get the full effect of instinctive bonding that they would get otherwise.
(There are many other natural ways to help make endorphins in labor, and most center on relaxation. Look into aromatherapy (the use of pure essential oils), homeopathy, massage, and the use of water in labor. After 20 minutes in the water, endorphins levels start to rise. Do some research and have some things on hand that you want to try.)
Do whatever YOU need to do to be comfortable in your labor. Your body already knows exactly what to do. Recognize this, and have confidence in what you will do instinctively!
The process of labor and pain is perfect, for both you and your baby.