Pain is often the first thing that comes up with people when they think of childbirth. However, this does not have to be the case at all. Not every woman experiences labor as (very) painful. It is important to inform yourself about pain and treatment during labor before giving birth.

Why does giving birth hurt?

During the first phase of dilation, the lightening dilates the cervix. This feeling is described as a diffuse pain in the abdomen and back. During the second stage of dilation, the pain extends. During the pushing phase, the birth canal is stretched which causes pressure on the nerves in the lower back.

As pain generally has a purpose, it also has an important purpose during childbirth. A well-functioning pain system plays a role in signaling progress, bottlenecks and complications. It causes physical processes to trigger, such as the increase of blood hormone levels that are important for the progress of childbirth. This stimulates performance and motivation.

Additionally, labor pain also has mental purposes. It forces you to focus your attention on your body; It can also give you positive feelings about childbirth.

What factors affect?

There are several factors that affect the pain. These can be divided into the following categories:

  • the delivery (phase, duration, broken water);
  • your health (number of pregnancies, weight of mother and child, menstrual pain before pregnancy);
  • the healthcare provider (background and attitude);
  • Environment;
  • Your expectations and preparation.

All these factors play a part in how you experience the pain during your childbirth. Unfortunately, you can’t always influence or control the childbirth, or your health at that moment. However, it is very important to be in a calm, safe place during labor, with people you feel comfortable with and trust. It is important to indicate if you are feeling anxious.

An example of this is a neurological study looking for the expectation of pain. The photos below are of a brain scan;


In this image you will see an area in the brain respond to painful stimulation that the participant was warned about beforehand that it would hurt. A large part of the brain becomes active.

In this image the stimulation was not painful, and the participant was not told it would hurt. The active part of the brain is quite small.


In this image, the participant was told the stimulation would hurt, but the stimulation does not actually hurt. You can see, despite there being no pain, the brain is still very active.

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