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Pain in labor...the difference between physiological pain and pathological pain


Have you ever seen this meme? The one that circulates around all the social media admonishing you to love your mother for the horrific atrocity she had to go through bringing you into the world. It is safe to say that I hate this image. Our culture is kind of obsessed with the pain of labor. Some people will go to any length to get rid of it and others wear it like a badge of honor. In my 12ish years of supporting moms through births, the great majority of which were without pain medication, and experiencing 2 unmedicated births of my own, my view of the pain of labor is very different from what we hear from the media and the majority of our culture. So today, lets talk about the difference between pathological pain, like the pain of having 20 of your bones broken at one time, and physiological pain. 


What is pathological pain?

In short pathological pain is pain that occurs to tell your body that it is being injured. It has a purpose, it serves as a warning that something is wrong. When someone experiences pathological pain from an injury, the body immediately gets to work to try and repair the damage being caused. Swelling and shock are 2 things that can happen when you experience  pathological pain. 


Ok, so what is physiological pain?

Physiological pain is much different. It comes from the intense sensations that occur during a natural and beneficial body process. When experiencing physiological pain your body knows that it isn't being injured. Your body also has tools in place to help us to endure physiological pain. Mostly releasing hormones that help your brain handle the intense sensations and help you to feel less sensation. Some examples of physiological pain are the discomfort you feel while running or lifting weights. Many people choose to go through this discomfort because of the benefits of the activity. For example, people feel happier and have more energy after exercise because of the endorphins that are released during difficult physical exertion.


So what does all of this have to do with birth?

Birth is a natural body process. The intense sensations felt come from a big muscle contracting intensely and the normal and beneficial stretching your pelvis and tissues need to undergo in order to let your baby pass through. Just like the pain of working out, the pain of labor has benefits both for the mom and the baby. Birth is all about hormones. Nature has very strategically designed birth to release the perfect hormones at the right time to assist with love and bonding and feelings of relaxation and happiness. The pain of labor causes your body to release these beneficial hormones. 


Birth is hard and intense. It was designed to be that way. Studies show that blocking the pain of labor can interfere with the natural release of hormones that occur in a normal birth. This is just one reason why many moms choose to have a natural birth. 


We also need to consider that sometimes women do experience pathological pain while giving birth. If something is not quite right with baby's position or something else pathological is happening in labor, mom will experience more intense pain than in a normal birth. Some moms still choose to go through this, if possible, for the benefits to both mom and baby, while other moms choose pain relief. It is still very possible to have a natural birth in these situations, but it definitely is more difficult. 


So what can help you to have a natural birth if that is what you desire as a mom?


1. Physically speaking...help ensure baby is in a good position before labor, and staying healthy with diet and exercise will go a long way.


2. Release fear.

So much of having a good birth is learning not to fear the pain of childbirth and to work with it rather than against it. Fear makes us tense and with that we release not so happy hormones that make us feel more pain in labor.


3. Prepare.

Learning and practicing comfort measures for the pain of labor, taking a good birth class to understand what to expect, and talking it through with your doula are super helpful for releasing fear of birth. Know that your body is meant to do this and that it will help you to get through- understanding this fact alone helps release so much fear.


4. Tailor to fit.

It is very important to choose a birthing place and care providers that make you feel safe, supported and protected during your birth. This looks different for every mom, but anxiety about your care providers can affect how you experience your birth. 


5. Hire a doula.

Hiring an experienced doula to help both prenatally and during your birth can make a big difference in how you experience your labor and birth. Science shows in study after study that women with experienced doulas have better birth outcomes. We are knowledgable in walking this journey with you to help you prepare for this specific birth.`


In conclusion, the only thing I love about that meme, is that you should love and thank your mom because no matter how she chooses to give birth, it is a physically and emotionally intense experience. Moms give so much to their children. But no, the pain of labor is not the equivalent of breaking bones. That only inspires fear and more pain. The pain of labor is much more like training and preparing for an athletic event. If you train yourself both physically and mentally, you can reach your goal of an all natural birth. If you have any questions about the pain of labor or natural birth please send us an email or contact us on Facebook. As always, we love to help you know your choices and have accurate information so you can have your best birth, your way!!







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