Labor is an experience unlike no other. It's an amazing — and unbelievably painful — series of sensations that are unique and unexpected. By the time the baby is delivered and everything is over, a mom is put through a wringer of emotions, feelings and impressions that she will never forget.
From the time the baby drops into the birth canal through the waves of contractions and on to the pushing, the body will go some maneuvers that it has never imagined, and everything will feel foreign and scary. Sensations such as the epidural — and how it could go wrong — the pressure, the back labor, the tearing and more are things that can only be understood when they actually happen. They are hard to describe and even harder to image, and you may have to feel it to believe it.
What happens when the water breaks? How does it feel when the placenta pops out? How cringe-worthy is it to tear and to be stitched back up? Like we said, labor and delivery are filled with crazy experiences, and we only hope this can help you understand what is going on with your body.
Here are 15 unbelievable sensations during labor.
This first feeling may actually come a few weeks before labor officially begins, but sometimes it happens during the main event. Some call it the lightening feeling, and it comes when the baby moves into the pelvis and into position to come out.
Some moms can feel it happening, and others stand up and realize that the baby is no longer squishing her lungs. Instead, it's wedged into her hips. She can breath better, but this can make the waddle even worse. For some, walking across the room can feel like the baby is going to slip right out.
The dropping sensation is a sign that things are starting to move forward, and while the cervix may still be closed, the baby is right in the spot for the birth. He will be here soon.
Sometimes women don't feel contractions in their stomach as much as they do on the back. It's called back labor and it happens when the baby is facing the posterior direction during labor.
Some women experience back aches for a few days before they realize that they are actually experiencing the contractions of the uterus. And many times labor starts off in the back and then the baby turns and the contractions move with him. In that case, the first normal contractions may be super intense due to the warmup.
Back labor is still legitimate labor, and it means that the cervix is opening up for the baby's birth. It can be just as painful as the ordinary kind, and you may be just as miserable. It's not fun.
Some women describe contractions as cramp-like, and that is true. They can feel like your uterus is put into a vice and squeezed. But if you think beyond the pain, the sensation of contractions can be perfectly described as feeling like waves crashing through the body.
The beginning stages of labor feel like small tightening grips, and they start out at the bottom. But as they get more intense, they move up higher in the uterus, and a mom-to-be can actually feel the way they course down along the uterus toward the cervix. The uterus is a big muscle, and during the contraction you can get the sensation of a wave working its way down and squeezing te way out.
The rhythm of contractions can be very wavelike too. They start smaller and farther apart like a somewhat calm ocean. But when the storm is coming, the waves start to build, and they grow in intensity and timing, in the end seeming to come right on top of each other.
Just like a day at the beach, women in labor may be able to find a bit of relaxation if they are able to time their breathing with the waves as they crash through them.
There's no guarantee that a mom will feel her water break during labor — in fact, it could remain intact and the baby could be born inside. But the sensation that comes with the bursting of the amniotic sac is one that she will never forget if she goes get the pleasure.
Some women feel a very distinctive pop before they feel a warm liquid running down their leg, while others just start leaking without noticing the big event. Occasionally the water breaks in one pretty big gush, but more likely it will come out slowly. As you head to the hospital, it could feel a bit like you have a big goldfish bowl in your belly, and every time it gets a little off balance some more water splashes outside.
Many women describe the breaking of their water differently, and it can even change with each baby. It's a unique and unexpected moment and the sensation will be your own to describe for the rest of your life.
Believe it or not, for some women, labor isn't all about pain. In fact, it can be positively orgasmic. Scientific studies have actually looked into the idea, since it can be so unbelievable. The biggest study took place in France — because, of course — and it happened in hundreds of cases.
We are not talking about couples who have sex during labor to try to get things going faster. This can happen entirely on its own.The doctors think it happens because of the stimulation of the cervix and the vagina. The clitoris is close enough to get in on the action. These are all sexual organs meant to feel pleasure, so why not?
The orgasmic stimulation can decrease the feeling of pain for the women who are lucky enough to go through it, so that is the definite good news.
Many women choose to forego the pain of labor, and instead they use medications to help them get through. One of the most popular is an epidural, where drugs are injected into the epidural space in the spine, and that can be an interesting sensation all on its own. Getting an injection into your spine can feel strange, and then it can kind of feel like you get hit in the funny bone, but down your leg.
Epidurals are meant to numb the lower half of the body, which means your legs can feel tingly and kind of hard to move — you won't want to walk around for fear of falling down. The good news is that, if it works, you won't really feel the contractions, Many women enjoy watching them on the monitor, so they know they are there, but they can play cards, visit with friends or even sleep through the painful part of labor.
Most women know that their cervix will have to dilate to 10 centimeters for the baby's delivery, but they have no idea what it will feel like when it gets there. It'll feel like fire — a ring of fire more treacherous than Johnny Cash could ever imagine. After all, he's never had to experience childbirth first hand.
The sensation can be terrifying. Seriously, imagine the Cash cover over your cervix, and it paints the perfect picture of searing, burning flames that lash out when the 10th centimeter is achieved. Luckily, it usually doesn't last two long. Many women reach a 10 and feel an urge to push. We'll talk about that situation in a few minutes, but the good news is that the act of pushing helps the ring of fire cool down. It'll actually be a relief to actively work to get the baby out. And pretty soon the fire will be extinguished.
An anesthesiologist has a tough job in placing an epidural, especially if the mom-to-be is getting it done in the later stages of labor when it is hard to sit still. And sometimes things don't work out perfectly. The anesthesiologist will ask if it feels like the needle is in the middle, and some women can't really tell. So for some, the epidural ends up working halfsies.
This may be the strangest sensation of all — when a contraction grips the entire uterus, but mom can only feel it on one side and not the other. She may be able to easily move one leg and get it into the position she wants but the other is like dead weight.
It could feel like a woman has two bodies, and one is in out-of-control pain while the other side doesn't feel anything. It's like the ultimate split personality and the only thing she can do about it is wait until the baby is born or the epidural wears off.
After delivering a baby, many woman are devastated to learn that they aren't done. They have to push out the placenta. While the psychology of one last push may be too much to bear, it's really not as bad as you might imagine.
In fact, while you may remember with a groan the moment when your baby was out, the moment that the placenta comes out is kind of laugh worthy. You may feel it just inside your birth canal and even if the doctor doesn't ask, you can push that sucker through with little effort. The pop that you feel is a strange simple pleasure that makes the scene change altogether. It's the true end and it's kind of like a denouement in a play — that final little scene after the big climax that usually has a moment of levity or makes you feel like everything is all right in the world. That's just what the placenta pop sensation feels like.
The beginning of labor can be a confusing time for a mom-to-be. She's had so many strange sensations going through her body for nine months, and she isn't sure what half of them are. So some things may be hard to pinpoint as a sign that labor is beginning. One of the weirdest may be the extreme pressure that comes when a baby's head lodges in the pelvis. If all things line up a certain way, that can feel, well, a lot like she is preparing to pass the largest and most solid dump that she ever imagined.
It happens when the baby lines up on the rectum as he is moving into place, and it has left more than one first-timers sitting in the bathroom wondering if she will ever be able to get over the constipation that must be happening. Eventually, she'll figure out that it's the baby, and if she moves around some, he'll probably shift enough to relieve the pressure and bring on the next strange sensation.
As painful as the first stage or two of active labor can be, things get really intense at the end. That last bit — when the cervix is dilating from 7 centimeters to the final destination of 10 — is called transition. And once you experience it you will forever think of that term as the sensation of transitioning into the pit of hell. It is worth than anything Dante ever described.
Not only is it painful — brink of death painful — but it is excruciatingly hot. Not the fun kind of hot we were describing earlier with orgasmic labor, but the hell kind of hot. Women who are in transition are likely to break out into a sweat and they may tear their hospital gown right off. This is devil flames heat we are talking about here, and it could leave a mom-to-be begging for a water birth just to cool off a bit.
With so much going on with the body during labor, some women find themselves going into a difference place in their mind. Some moms, even a few notable celebrities, have described it as a kind of out-of-body experience, and we couldn't agree more.
There is so much pressure on a new mom to experience the pain of a natural labor these days that sometimes it can be all too much. If the labor is fast and the contractions are intense — especially during transition and right before the pushing begins — then the mind can help by taking a woman out of the moment and have her, in a sense, watch herself and get a new perspective.
The sensation can usually be enough to start to center her and get a grip on what is happening. That comes just in time for when the real work begins — pushing.
Just before the birth, every one frets about what it will feel like to push a baby out. It's something that you can't visualize until the contractions get you to 10 centimeters, but somehow, after that your body and mind seem to know exactly what to do.
It can be a bit more difficult for a woman who has an epidural because the numbing can make it hard to figure out exactly where to push, but she too will soon know the sensation of pushing with your uterus and cervix to give the body the momentum to free its little bundle of joy. The sensation is hard to describe, but it happens for most women just as it should. There is pressure, pushing and then an amazing rush as the baby slides out and eventually ends up in his mother's arms. Now that is a sensation that a mother will always remember and cherish.
Just about the time that the baby crowns, there's a new sensation that most people prefer never to imagine. For way too many women, the baby doesn't quite have enough room, and he makes his own way, tearing through flesh as he comes.
Doctors don't do episiotomies as often these days, thinking that its better to just let things go naturally. But that means that a mom will feel every moment that the skin splits. Anyone who has gashed open their skin knows it isn't exactly like being licked by puppies, but if it is a spot where things are already swollen and sore, it can be tortuous for weeks afterward.
Witchazel and ice packs are in your future, and it could take weeks before you can sit straight. It's really painful and terrible, and a sensation you won't soon forget.
Moms have gone through a lot already with the labor and delivery, but one of the creepiest sensations happens after the action is over. The baby is out, and the mom may be ready to bond. Yet the doctor is still there, right in between her legs, and he has the task of stitching up the tears.
If you had stitches before on a cut on your arm or leg you may think you know what this feels like. But if for mom's whose anesthesia has worn off, the sensation is somewhat akin to what a pincushion must feel like, if the pincushion was bruised and swollen and ready for everyone to stop touching it.
It's not exactly painful, but no one would every call the sensation of being pricked in a sensitive area a dozen or so times exactly pleasant. We hope that the new baby is a distraction from the uncomfortable moment for you.