Labor pains: they’re bound to make a soon-to-be-first-time mom a little nervous. It’s one of the toughest situations a woman can face. They call it labor because it’s hard work. If it were easy, they’d call it recess.
Without anything to compare, how can first-time mothers know what kind of a pain to expect? Labor pains are unique to each person. 15 mothers will describe it 15 different ways. So, we compiled 15 descriptions of the pain women have felt during labor and delivery.
15 Excruciating Menstrual Cramps
Younger women are all too familiar with the uncomfortable abdominal cramping that accompanies menstrual cycles. In fact, so many women suffer from monthly cramps, it is the number one reason why women in their teens and 20s are absent from school or work.
Every month, a young woman sheds the lining of her womb if she is not pregnant. Back pain and lower abdominal cramps are typical symptoms of a menstrual cycle, but a warm bath and ibuprofen can usually treat this discomfort. But, imagine the worst menstrual pains you’ve ever felt. It’s like a surge of severe cramps that come and go. Some women liken these cramps to labor pains.
14 All-Around Charley Horse
In the U.S. and Canada, they call it a charley horse. In Australia, it’s a corked thigh. It feels like a paralyzing spasm in the calf or thigh muscle, and it’s painful enough to wake you out of a sleep.
Many women never experience a charley horse until pregnancy. Medical experts are still not certain why expecting mothers experience leg cramps, but theories include vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and fatigue from carrying extra weight.
A charley horse is a crippling pain that leaves the leg feeling tender and strained. If you can imagine a charley horse flaring all around your stomach and your back, it’s a feeling that is similar to labor contractions.
13 Awful Constipation
In a vaginal delivery, your medical team will give you permission to “bear down.” This means you need to push your pelvic area down during your contraction. Ask any mother who has given birth vaginally and she’ll tell you the further the baby descends the birth canal, the more the baby feels like it's coming out of your bottom.
It takes an incredible amount of physical force to push a baby out. You have to push harder than you’ve ever pushed before. Plus, these are the same muscles you engage in pushing out a poop from your rectum. This explains why a substantial number of women who give birth vaginally have a bowel movement during labor; it’s just part of the pushing process of childbirth. So, the next time a mother compares pushing a baby out of her vagina to feeling incredibly constipated, you’ll know why.
12 Painful Braxton Hicks
Not all pregnant women experience Braxton Hicks contractions. They are sporadic, painless contractions of the uterus. Some women begin to feel this tightening midway through their pregnancies. Approaching delivery, they can become rather intense, and difficult to distinguish between real labor contractions.
We owe this term to John Braxton Hicks, the first doctor to explain these intermittent contractions. At first, a first-time mom may be scared thinking she’s in pre-term labor, but Braxton Hicks are like trial runs; the uterine muscles are warming up for the big day. They are not powerful enough to force out a baby. However, if Braxton Hicks were stronger and much more painful, they would be comparable to labor pains.
11 Diarrhea Cramps
An urgent need to have a bowel movement usually comes with painful diarrhea cramps. Sometimes referred to as the intestinal flu, diarrhea is the result of a virus in your gut. It causes loose and watery stools. Diarrhea also produces an internal clenching that is enough to make you double over and rock in pain. Some mothers draw a parallel between the agonizing cramps from diarrhea and labor pains.
10 Pelvic Pain
Throughout pregnancy, the pelvic joints relax and stretch to accommodate a growing baby. Many women experience increasing pressure on the pelvis, especially during the third trimester.
Active labor is when the pelvis is put under a tremendous about of pressure and strain. In a vaginal labor, contractions help push the baby through the canal, putting extreme tension around the vaginal area. This pressure is enough to temporarily separate the pelvic bones. It goes without saying that pelvic pressure during labor is a fierce pain.
9 Punch in the Back
You've probably heard women describe labor as “backbreaking.” This is because 25% of women experience back labor during delivery.
Labor and delivery come with its share of discomfort in the lower back, but back labor is a severe pain that coexists with labor contractions. The position of the baby and several other reasons can affect the severity of this dull pain.
The bitter discomfort of back labor can feel like a repeated punch in the lower back. Repositioning the laboring mother can sometimes help ease this irritation.
8 Stabbing in the Abdomen
During a contraction, the uterine muscles tighten, and the abdomen hardens. This recurrent tightening helps your baby descend the birth canal. The compression can also feel like a thousand daggers stabbing you in the stomach. This cramping can shoot from front to back and back to front.
7 Burning in the Cervix
During the first stage of labor, the baby slowly descends the cervical canal. The mouth of the cervix needs to open to 10 centimeters. This is when the second stage of labor can begin. At this time, there is much pain and pressure surrounding the cervix. This is why some mothers describe a painful, burning sensation in the cervix.
6 Bad Gas Pains
A bloated feeling in your stomach can be quite uncomfortable, especially if you’ve been to the bathroom and cannot release the pressure. When intestinal gas builds up and you cannot expel it, you will experience a troublesome, internal pain. The average person passes gas 10 times a day. The feeling of not being able to release this gas is similar to early labor pains.
5 Rectal Pain
As the baby is pushed into the world, the perineum is stretched. The perineum is the section of skin between the vagina and the anus. If you have an epidural to relieve pain, there is a higher risk of the perineum tearing. And if you developed hemorrhoids during pregnancy, the pressure and pain are further intensified. Rectal pain is a common discomfort among laboring women.
4 Intense Waves
In early labor, moderately painful contractions materialize every 15 to 20 minutes. As they become more frequent, the pain swells, growing more intense with each contraction. This is why it's hard for some women to verbalize the pain they feel during labor. For some, the pain radiates all over the body at the same time. These women describe labor as intense waves of pain, instead of being constant.
3 Unimaginable Exhaustion
In the movies, women push two or three times, and the baby pops out. Perhaps this is why some pregnant women are surprised when labor turns out to be a lengthy process.
For first-time mothers, active labor can last for an average of eight hours. Subsequent labors generally do not last as long. Still, labor involves a lot of pushing. Your arms and legs will get tired. Labor is an awesome process, but it can be taxing. It is so exhausting that some women barely have enough energy to push their babies out.
2 Gall or Kidney Stones
If you build up mineral deposits in your body, it can result in gall or kidney stones. These hard formations build up in their respective organs, and both can cause major pain until they are removed from the body. The pain of gall or kidney stones is a restless feeling of pain. It’s a sharp attack that can leave you drenched in sweat. For this reason, gall and kidney disorders often compare to the pain of labor.
1 The Most Beautiful Pain Ever
Some women say it’s like no pain they have ever felt. Being in the throes of labor is like the worst and best pain at the same time. It hurts, but adrenaline coursing through your veins helps you through.
Women have remarkable strength. Our bodies can stretch and bounce back after delivering a full-term baby. Just think, if labor pains were completely intolerable, mothers wouldn’t do it over and over again.
So, take a deep breath and have faith. Whatever pain you encounter during labor, you will rise to the occasion.