How painful is giving birth?

October 15, 2021

How painful is giving birth?

The pain of labour and birth is one of the most talked about and most worried about aspect of having a baby. If you’re a first time mum, that fear of the unknown can be awful can’t it. What will it feel like? How will I cope? How painful will it be?

And the trouble is, there is so such variation isn’t there. Some people say labour and birth is the worst pain ever (“oh don’t worry, I can survive this – I survived childbirth!!’….) whilst some say it's completely manageable. Some people even describe their birth as being pain free. But how can they all be describing the same process? I’m going to set out some of the things that impact how painful or comfortable giving birth will be.

First of all, I should point out that nobody is lying about their experience! And nobody is exaggerating! They have genuinely had very different birth experiences.


"I have a really low pain threshold!"

There is a really common misconception that this comes down to pain thresholds. Surely the woman saying its incredibly painful just had a lower pain threshold than the woman saying that her birth was powerful but manageable? Why would one person be happy with gas and air whilst another person is asking for an epidural?

Don’t get me wrong – there is of course an element of subjectivity there. We do feel things differently. But labour pain also falls somewhere on a really varied scale. So what puts one birth at the low end of the pain scale whilst another will be at the top of the scale?


Good sex vs Bad sex

Asking “how painful is giving birth?” is a bit like asking ‘how good is sex?’ We’ve all had really great sex at some point and we’ve all had rubbish (and possibly quite painful) sex at other times. And this will be impacted by all sorts of things: Who are you having sex with and how do you feel about them at the time? How are you feeling mentally and emotionally? Are you distracted or able to focus? Can you really relax or are you worried about somebody walking in? Are you warm enough? Are the lights dim or too bright? Are you comfortable in the position you're in?

Well giving birth is exactly the same! Just as you can impact sex by changing those factors above, so you can alter how painful or comfortable giving birth is.


Factors that will affect how painful or how comfortable your labour and birth are

Here are the 4 main things to think about:

  1. How are you feeling mentally and emotionally?

Fear, anxiety, stress, irritation, pressure…these will all make your labour and birth more painful. (And longer, but that’s one for another blog!) You will produce adrenaline rather than oxytocin, which means less blood and oxygen to your contracting uterus, and fewer pain-killing endorphins produced by your body. Reduce these emotions and get yourself into a calm, relaxed state and labour and birth will be much more comfortable!

  1. What is your environment like?

Do you have enough privacy? Are you warm enough? Are you somewhere familiar? Can you really relax where you are? Or are you somewhere clinical? Somewhere noisy and distracting? Are the lights bright? Do you have lots of strangers around you? Again – these will affect which hormones you produce and so how efficiently and comfortably your body labours.

  1. What positions are you adopting?

Lying on your back on a bed will very rarely be the best position to give birth in! Yet it’s the position that most women give birth in in the UK. Being in upright positions, staying active and moving around will keep you more comfortable, allow your pelvis to expand and help your baby turn into better positions for birth.

  1. Have you had any intervention?

Intervention will often change the way that the body naturally labours. If you have had your waters artificially broken for example, or you are having your labour started or sped up using the artificial hormone drip, your labour will not feel the same as a spontaneous labour. It will often be more intense, with less time for your body and brain to adjust, and you are unlikely to be producing as many of your pain-killing endorphins. If you do choose to be induced, thinking about points 1 – 3 above are therefore even more important.

So preparing for birth by giving thought to the 4 points above will have a real impact on how you experience labour and birth and the strength of the pain or sensations that you feel.

If you would like my support in preparing for your birth, please get in touch to discuss booking a hypnobirthing & antenatal course with me. I teach in groups and privately, and I teach both online via zoom and in person (in Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells, Sevenoaks and the surrounding areas). I would love to help you prepare for a calm, positive birth!

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