What are the pains really like?

By: Dr.Denise O’Brien


Labour is painful, so it is important to learn about all the ways you can relieve pain. Consider and write down what you want in your birth plan, but remember that you should keep an open mind. You may find that you want more pain relief than you had planned, or your doctor or midwife may suggest more effective pain relief to help the delivery.
Many women say they felt unprepared for labour, and that antenatal classes did not explain what labour would be like. Some women have provided their experiences so that you can get a sense of what labour is like.

Lisa tells her experience
“For some reason I think it was me, I wasn’t expecting the pain to be as bad as it was. I don’t know how you could be prepared for that. I probably didn’t have many questions as I was so well and fit, and by the end I was dying to go into labour, so when I went into labour it was bewildering and you don’t know what to ask. Yea if there was some way of explaining the pain better for a first-timer, more realistic, like I has even gone to yoga classes to prepare and to understand what to do when you are not getting pains, to manage, you know if it’s going to be 12 hours, it’s going to be hell if you’re are not managing it, but it never really registered with me. So for me I found it hard to manage because I thought it would be fine and I didn’t expect it to be painful but yes labour is painful but once you learn to cope with it you can manage it, you just need to get on top of it from the start so start thinking about what you will do to help you cope with pain think about what works for you”

Fionnula suggests
The classes were highly informative but I just didn’t know how hard, the experience was going to be like, how difficult it was going to be, maybe it’s better you don’t know in a way, maybe that is why, because you don’t won’t to be set up for you know to be fed negative information either but I just remember being very surprised by this physical thing that I had to do that was so difficult and the classes didn’t prepare you for that so I think you need to know that physically this is a hard experience. So you need to be both rested and relaxed about it, you need to prepare for this , I had done all these lovely breathing exercises in yoga class and I know we say labour all the time but it is not registering this is hard labour. By that I mean its hard physical work, but it won’t last forever and the midwives were brilliant. It’s such a good experience, there is a large discrepancy between what you read in advance and what your experiences and by that I mean you read all these books about having a nice drug free birth and natural and all that kind of stuff and then your experience can be quite clinical very medical so you are set up for something but you experience something very different. especially if you are induced or something but if you want the drug free birth the community midwives is closer to what you think is going to happen its more natural, kind of experience. But not everyone wants that and that’s important the epidural is there for women who want it.

Rose tells her experience of labour pains:
I tried to do hypnobirthing but I couldn’t but the book that came with it were the best information about contractions, it talked about contractions and the escalation of them ar this you know at the worst for starting off for about 30 seconds and at its worst for a minute or so you are in true pain, I found that really good, and it was like that I was ready for it so here we go build, build, build, and there we go it’s over and I really focused on that you know I relaxed and went with it and breathed through , so I didn’t get locked into this aaaaaaaaaaaaagh, because of what I read it really helped me with confidence and relieving my fears, I could go through all my books at what I found useful and another think you have this sense from TV and other people talking they love to give you the gory details, and someone asked me out of 1 to 10 I would say 6, as I would imagine breaking a leg or would be a very bad continuous pain but this is a pain that starts in increments over a long period of time and you have time to adjust, but the hardest part is when it goes up a notch and you think you can’t cope but your body adjust to it, no-body really explained that to me before I never thought about it being incremental you know your pain threshold is being tested by degrees, I thought that was bad but here I am I coped with it, I labored here at home from 9-11 at night so I had gone through a few stages and I was well ready for gas and air at that stage so I would see how it went when I went in to the hospital.nd then the pains coming down and talking about this was brilliant and gave timings fo

Nicola tells her experience of labour pains
“I was very happy I was on gas and air and all my friends had an epidural, I had my self-psyched up for an epidural, I thought the pain would be really bad but I didn’t find it that bad, my friend was with me and she had me doing visualization’s, I was imaging myself on a lie-low in the sun, it really helped, I really felt I could continue with them, the only thing I didn’t like was the pushing, I didn’t get to antenatal classes and you had to do the opposite to during labour. I had the contractions mastered but when it came to pushing I didn’t want to push. So my advice don’t fight as such against the contractions, try and relax through them and focus on a happy thought or memory for the minute you are in pain, the midwife told me great thing she said every time you go with the contractions and let them do their job you are closer to the end and it made sense to me”

Coping at the beginning
You are better to be active and mobile and remain up and moving about during labour if you feel like it.
Stay hydrated drink fluids and you may find isotonic drinks (sports drinks) help to keep your energy levels up.
You can eat light snacks, in early labour but many women don’t feel very hungry and some feel nauseated. You may also vomit.
As the contractions or pains get stronger, last longer and become more painful, you need to focus and try relaxation and breathing exercises. Your birthing partner is important now and can help by doing them with you
Your birthing partner can also help rub and massage your back ideally you will have practiced techniques during pregnancy your back to relieve the pain if that helps.
Heat packs or hot water bottles are also effective, or try standing in the shower or have a bath.



Dr.Denise O’Brien is a lecturer in Midwifery

Programme Director MSc Midwifery Practice/ Head of Subject Midwifery