SingaporeMotherhood | Pregnancy

September 2012

6 Things You Didn’t Know About Labour Pain

When labour is mentioned in tandem with childbirth, the first thought that goes though many women’s minds is pain. Indeed, there is pain in childbirth. However, women’s bodies were made to birth naturally, and this pain can be managed — without drugs. Find out how, below.

1. Your Perception Becomes Your Reality

We are surrounded by misleading messages that labour and childbirth are extraordinarily painful experiences. We believe these ideas, and approach labour with dread.


As doula, midwife and mother of four, Sandra Versele shares, “I am bothered not so much by the word ‘contraction’, but by what it has come to represent. Contractions are portrayed as excruciating and completely regular in time and pace. They are nothing like that! A woman labouring calmly will often talk of discomfort, pressure, tightening, pulling. Different stages of labour call for different sensations.”

As in a self-fulfilling prophecy, your expectations of what labour will be like are fulfilled by what you experience in reality. Begin labour by having faith in your body and your body’s resources to cope, and you will do so well!

How to do it Read positive stories about labour; do not listen to birth horror stories. Surround yourself with individuals who have confidence in your strength of mind and your abilities to birth well.

2. Positive Pain

Labour sensations are positive. Contractions are the work of your own body doing what it needs to do to achieve birth. Think about them from this perspective, and you will find that the feelings you experience will motivate you as you labour.

When you are injured, the pain that arises signals damage to the body. This is different from labour pain. However, labouring women often react to labour pain in the same way that they would to any other physical pain, by resisting.

How to do it Work with your body. Relax as much as you can, and surrender to your body’s sensations to help you go with the ebb and flow of tightenings as labour progresses. Remind yourself to ‘let go’ and use positive birth affirmations to help you cope.

Another idea involves using visualisation. At the start of each contraction, visualise yourself surfing a wave, with the crest of the wave being the contraction peak. Repetitive motion in rhythm with contractions, such as massage or gentle swaying, can also help. Having an activity to repeat throughout labour gives you an internal focus, and helps you get through one surge at a time.

3. Your Body’s Natural Pain Relievers

Endorphins are produced in a labouring woman’s brain in response to her pain sensations. They behave like opiates to relieve pain naturally and create feelings of well-being.

In labour, the hormone oxytocin causes contractions. According to gentle birth advocate Dr Sarah Buckley, very high levels of endorphins in your blood decrease the level of oxytocin, slowing labour down. She writes in her essay ‘Pain in Labour: Your Hormones are your Helpers’ that this endorphin-oxytocin interplay may actually help to regulate labour sensations, keeping them within your ability to cope!

Hence, interfering with the natural progress of labour, such as starting labour artificially, will affect the hormonal balance, potentially increasing pain. The levels of endorphins in the body are also reduced when pain-relieving drugs are used.

First-time pregnant mother Nora says, ‘I don’t know what to expect, since this is my first time, but it is reassuring knowing that my body has its way of helping labour pain!’

How to do it If your labour is going well, continue to let it progress on its own. Believe in your body’s ability to birth your child, and focus on that.

4. Positive Sensations To Counteract Pain

Pain is felt when pain messages travel from the area of injury to the brain. If you experience positive sensations at the same time as the pain, messages from these sensations will delay or disrupt the pain signals, decreasing your pain sensations. This is the reason why touch, massage, aromatherapy and warmth help you to cope with labour pain.

How to do it Get your spouse or your birthing partner to give you massages as you labour. Being immersed in water also decreases pain because the water acts like a full-body massage! Build up a repertoire of techniques, comfort measures and coping skills to help you in labour. Read about the best positions for labouring and find those which help you.

5. Fear→Tension→Pain

A woman’s emotional state can and will affect her labour process. If you anticipate pain, the fear of pain leads to muscle tension and higher levels of stress hormones in the body. These increase labour length and intensity, increasing pain. This is called the fear-tension-pain cycle.

It is important to resolve your labour fears before labour begins.
• Do you fear ending up with a c-section?
• Are you concerned about ‘losing control’ or how you will appear to others?
• Are you concerned that you will labour alone?

How to do it Relaxation, say mothers and childbirth educators, is the cornerstone for coping with labour pain. In their book Pregnancy, Childbirth & the Newborn, the authors suggest staying relaxed through early labour contractions as it is easier to relax early on.

Learn active relaxation skills that help you consciously release muscle tension in various muscles throughout your body.

Practise relaxation in the quiet familiarity of your home, and prepare your labour environment to match this. As your relaxation skills improve, the authors recommend practising in different body positions, for example sitting on a birth ball while leaning forward and resting your head on a support or on your hands and knees. They explain that in every position, some muscle groups stay contracted to support your body while other muscles relax.

Mum of two Emily found that labour with her second baby lasted less than four hours. She recalls, “My labour was fast and furious. The physical part was intense but my biggest struggle was staying calm and coping with my feelings! I felt panic and worried that something was wrong. Then, I decided to let my body take over and everything happened very quickly!”

6. How Doulas Help

A doula is a trained professional labour supporter who provides emotional and informational support to a labouring mother.

Research shows that mothers who have doulas with them in labour are less likely to
• use epidurals
• require drugs to speed up labour
• have a forceps birth
• have a Caesarean birth

How to do it Having a doula helps you cope with the intensity and physical sensations of labour, and avoid interventions that you do not want. Your doula may offer touch, massage, verbal encouragement or suggestions for coping. She may simply offer her quiet presence.

Aside from hands-on support, if a medical procedure becomes necessary, a doula will help you explore all the options available to you before arriving at a well-thought-through decision.

Mothers say this sense of being treated with respect and having control over labour decisions enable them to emerge feeling like the labour intensity was only one aspect of a beautiful and empowering birth story!

All content from this article, including images, cannot be reproduced without credits or written permission from SingaporeMotherhood.

Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Telegram for the latest article and promotion updates.

6 Things You Didn’t Know About Labour Pain