Will she be able to handle the demands of labor? At what point, if any, will she need an epidural or another form of pain relief?
Many women have likely heard numerous horror stories from other mothers experiencing immense pain and suffering during labor.
They say it is an unbearable pain, unlike anything they’ve ever experienced.
Movies and TV portray birth in the same way. Women in great pain, screaming at their husbands and begging for an epidural. Is it really that horrific?
Whether or not it is, when a woman hears these stories, it’s easy to get scared. There is a lot of fear surrounding childbirth. The fear of pain can be so great, that it can actually make labor more painful.
Instead of fearing the birth of their child, women should use that energy to prepare for the great task before them.
Childbirth is not easy. There’s a reason it’s called labor. Even if you were to get an epidural after your very first contraction, labor is still challenging.
Even with a planned cesarean, the body takes a long time to recover. You simply cannot avoid the trials of childbirth.
Is Natural Labor Always the Same?
So what does natural childbirth really feel like and what should a woman expect? This may not be the response many women want to hear, but every labor is different.
Even one woman can have completely different experiences with different babies. One labor can be easy and another one can be incredibly challenging.
And not just because of the circumstances surrounding the labor (i.e. interventions, staff, complications, baby’s position), but the intensity of the contractions can also be different.
Because of this, it’s hard to prepare women for what they can expect.
While it is no guarantee that every woman will experience these sensations during labor, knowing some common feelings can help a woman prepare for her baby’s birth.
Common Early Labor Feelings
Although every labor is different, there are many common experiences among women. Before labor begins, most women experience Braxton-Hicks contractions. These contractions are usually not painful, but they can be uncomfortable.
You feel a tightening in your stomach that can last a minute or two. The difference between these contractions and labor contractions is that these don’t dilate your cervix.
Once real labor begins, you will notice a difference in the new contractions versus the Braxton-Hicks. They are painful instead of just uncomfortable. They feel very similar to menstrual cramps.
The pain is manageable at first, and you can be easily distracted. As the contractions happen, the stomach tightens and you notice a definite beginning and end with each contraction.
Labor can progress quickly or slowly, but as it does the contractions will feel more intense and more painful. They will last longer and happen more frequently.
Once Labor Becomes More Challenging
At some point, you will no longer be able to be distracted during contractions. Talking, touch, and other distractions may even be annoying. All of your energy and focus will be on the current contraction.
This is usually the time when women who prefer pain relief choose to get an epidural.
Contractions are more manageable when you are prepared for them. Women use different coping methods to get through contractions, such as slow breathing, relaxation techniques, visual imagery, or self-hypnosis.
Find what works for you and continue the ritual with each contraction.
Contractions continue until you are completely dilated. At that point, many women experience a time of rest, where contractions seem to cease for a short time so you can build up strength for pushing.
The Second Stage of Labor: Pushing and Delivery
When your body is ready to push, for many women it is an uncontrollable urge. Your uterus is taking over and you are just along for the ride. At this point contractions tend to feel differently.
They are not as painful, but they are pushing your baby out. Some women say it actually feels good to push. When each contraction begins, you will likely have a strong urge to push.
As the baby’s head is moving through the perineum and crowning, the feeling is called the “ring of fire.”
It is a burning sensation, but as long as you take it easy and don’t push the baby out too quickly, the feeling is not quite as intense. Thankfully, the “ring of fire” is not something you feel for long.
Listen to your doctor or midwife. If they tell you to slow down your pushing it is because they are trying to protect your perineum.
Once the head is delivered, the pain is essentially finished. The rest of the baby is born, usually pretty quickly, and all pain and trials of labor are but a memory.
A beautiful baby has entered the world, and with the new life comes immense joy and relief.
Soon afterwards the placenta is delivered, which may require another push or two. But birthing the placenta is very easy and pain free compared to what you’ve just experienced.
Is It Worth It?
As stated previously, all labor experiences are different. So it’s hard to know what labor will feel like for you. Many women wonder if all the trials and pain are worth it. Why not just have an epidural?
It is absolutely true that birth is just as satisfying with or without an epidural. And the end result is, for the most part, the same. The joy and excitement of meeting your child for the first time.
For those women who have had natural childbirth, many of them say they wouldn’t change their decision. Mostly because of the euphoric feelings they felt after the birth. Natural childbirth leaves you with incredible feelings of great accomplishment, pride, and satisfaction.
Women who have delivered their babies naturally feel like they have just conquered the world. It is the absolute best feeling.
So while every woman can and should be able to make the best choice for them, if your choice is natural labor, you are most surely to never regret it.