Many first time parents spend hours researching every conceivable aspect of the pregnancy journey: what symptoms are normal, what can be expected each month, what is the baby developing at this time, and, most especially, what is labor and delivery like. Understandably, the things society has heard and learned about birth would be enough to inspire anxiety and worry if not downright panic in any mom-or-dad-to-be’s-mind. The truth is, however, that no medical book or person can really tell you what birth will feel like because that answer varies from person to person – sometimes a great deal.
Of course, it’s likely not anxiety-resolving and instead is more of a catch-22 for new moms to learn they’ll have to experience labor to know what they are in for. So, we did the next best thing by asking nearly 1,000 moms from the popular website BabyCenter to tell us about their labor experiences. While it’s impossible to know if your labor will match any one of the numerous responses, a description from those who have been there can help you become more mentally prepared. Here is a sampling of what those thousand moms said labor was like for them.
Some moms reported that the experience was not nearly as painful or awful as they had prepared themselves for it to be. Some of the responses on the good side of the spectrum included:
• Contractions felt like muscles spasms and weren’t actually very painful.
• Labor pain is irritating, but it’s not unbearable.
• Some moms didn’t even realize how close they were until almost fully dilated, instead, feeling more like they needed to go to the bathroom.
• For many moms, the epidural might not have blocked everything, but it did make a significant difference.
• Because of pregnancy preparation, labor was really positive and not painful.
Other moms reported less positive memories of their labor pain, though did not remember it being worse than they had expected it to be.
• Many moms describe intense spasms that move from the top of the uterus down to the pubic area, becoming much more intense over time.
• Others described it as an awful ache which began in the back and radiated into the stomach area.
• Some said the contractions waxed and waned like menstrual pains do over several days, except it was every few minutes.
• Contractions were painful enough to need an epidural, but after it was in it was better.
• Menstrual cramps on steroids would be a good descriptor.
According to some moms, childbirth didn’t get its reputation lightly.
• It was an all-encompassing pain that didn’t end.
• I begged my hubby to throw me out of the car on the way to the hospital, it hurt so bad.
• It was something like being run over by a train.
• Quite a few moms mention being disappointed by epidurals that didn’t help as much as expected or didn’t work at all.
• Many moms thought the cramps felt like horrible Charley horses in the stomach instead of the legs.
• One common descriptor was a sense of feeling horrible gas and bloating pains, but worse.
• Often, moms described labor as the pain of the worst stomach bug they had ever had.
• It’s like getting punched in the back and the stomach simultaneously.
Other Common Sensations.
In addition to the variety of responses the moms gave about how bad labor pain was, they also supplied many common sensations to compare labor pain too that they felt were more accurate descriptors. The comparisons to stomach bugs and menstrual cramps were common.
Another common thread was the report that labor included a lot of skin and muscle tightening sensations. These moms felt as if their skin was too tight for their body or could literally feel the uterus muscles getting tighter each time there was a contraction. One mom described it as a sensation that her stomach was tightening into a painful ball, which was actually worse than the contractions. For some, it felt like someone was pulling all the skin and holding it taut, then releasing it. It also tended to feel as if someone was squeezing all of the air from them.
Many of the moms found labor pains to be stabbing rather than dull, like a knife being shoved into the stomach on a periodic basis or like the type of kick or punch that completely knocks the wind out of you – on a repeated basis. One mom even said, “It felt like I was being impaled on a hot fireplace poker.” Apparently, she wasn’t the only one, because many of the moms interviewed reported a definite burning sensation, especially during crowning. In fact, sometimes tearing even provided relief from the burn.
Moms also described having a lot of back labor, feeling as if the pain in the back was actually, for them, far worse than any pain in their stomach. Some described a desire to escape from their own spine because of the pain, while others described a feeling more of pressure, either on the back, stomach, or both, as opposed to pain. Generally, moms described this pressure as feeling like they “needed to have a massive poop,” at least when not trying to use proper decorum. There was a lot of pressure in varying degrees on all points of the groin and rectum across the spectrum. In fact, pressure and pain weren’t localized to one area as much as many of the moms had expected. One said, “It felt as though a 400-pound man was pressing down on each hip.” Others described pain in the upper thighs as well as the hips.
While labor is no trip to the beach, the description of labor pains ebbing and peaking like waves or rolling through the lower back and body like waves was a normal description by the interviewed moms. In addition, moms often felt like their body knew what to do better than their mind, so it felt as if the body was just taking over and handling things as the contractions continued. At this point, the moms often felt calmer than they had earlier in labor and were able to work with the pain they felt, transferring it into energy to push and even feeling pain when they tried to slow down or stop pushing. And, of course, feeling as it if was the most exhausting work they had ever done was common, too. After all, they don’t call it labor for no reason.
The Bottom Line
The good news is, even though the labor pain was particularly bad for some and any new mom could find herself among those ranks when labor begins, the consensus was pretty universal that everything the moms went through was worth it once they had their babies in their arms. Some described the pain as easier to handle because they knew it was with a purpose and others said even though it hurt, it also felt natural and like it was supposed to be that way and was okay. One mom sums it up well with the conclusion “Emotionally, it was amazing. Many people say the pain disappears once your child is in your arms, and they’re right!”