The Way We Think About Labour Might Change How We Feel It
A new Australian study suggests changing the way society thinks and talks about birth could make a huge difference in how women experience it.
In news not at all surprising to any female who as ever had a baby: childbirth is painful. Regardless of how you get your blessed bundle into the world- and there is no right or wrong way- your body goes through the wringer in the process. As beautiful and magical a miracle as it is, it still really bloody hurts.
But a new study has looked at just how- and why- labour pains affect women differently. According to La Trobe University research, changing the way society thinks and talks about birth could make a huge difference in improving just how women experience it. Labour pain expert Dr Laura Whitburn spoke to new mums in two Melbourne hospitals to hear their experience of labour pain.
“Labour pain is very different to other pains because it arises during a natural process in which a woman’s body is doing what it should be doing, rather than by something going wrong,” said Dr Whitburn. “There’s no denying labour contractions are extremely intense. The pain is very good at capturing the labouring woman’s attention, and motivating her to seek safety and care during birth. But my research shows that not everybody experiences this pain in the same way”.
Best way to give birth without pain: “Purposeful pain”
The research suggested that if women were able to reframe their labour as “purposeful pain” and were able to remain “present” and “focused” during labour, they were more likely to come away with a positive experience.
“Women who labour with the mindset that there is a purpose to their pain appear able to make pain part of the experience. They are less likely to need interventions such as an epidural or C-section,” Dr Whitburn said.
She also looked at the effect of caregivers during childbirth, and what impact they had on how women felt during labour. “It seems that one key element to remaining focused and resilient during labour is who is caring for you. Having a midwife or support person who you know and trust, and who is sending positive messages about your body and your progress can boost a woman’s sense of ability to cope with the pain,” she said.
Attempting to avoid intervention
What Dr Whitburn was keen to point out, however, is that there was obviously a huge difference between ‘normal’ labour pain- that is literally due to the fact you are performing the superhuman feat of pushing a person out of you- and ‘abnormal’ pain, associated with complications- which will always require intervention.
But, considering the growing concern that unnecessary medical interventions can increase health risks to mothers and babies, there’s a big hope that this research will help to empower women during their childbirth journey.
In 2017, 35 percent of women in Australia had a C-section, one of the highest rates in the world and more than double that recommended by the World Health Organisation. In the same year, more than 78 percent of women giving birth in Australia used pain-killing medication.
There’s no “right” way to give birth
Again, it’s really important to stress that there is absolutely nothing wrong with either of these decisions. Even if there is no real “medical” reason for needing a caesarean, you may just want to have one and that is absolutely your right and your choice and the last thing we need is to start telling more women what they should do with their bodies. This research is simply attempting to help mums believe that they are capable of going through labour, that it’s not as terrifying or as impossible as they may have once thought.
That was certainly the response from many of the mums involved who reported that changing their mindset made a huge difference:
“…you had it in your mind the whole time that the contractions were good. Even though they were painful, it was good because it was sort of tracking your progression,” one mum said.
Another reported that just knowing she might need a caesarean made her labour feel more painful because “I just knew it wasn’t working towards giving birth.” One mum even said she remembered thinking, “this hurts, but it feels awesome!”
Dr Whitburn really wants to make women feel they can do everything- including actually enjoy childbirth. “Instead of supporting women to work with their bodies during labour, our current birth culture undermines them. By re-framing the way we think and talk about that pain, we may be able to reduce medical interventions and improve women’s experience,” she said.
Is there a best way to give birth without pain?
One of the most worrying things about childbirth is that the pain will be unbearable.
However, mothers shared that once their little one’s face pops out from the womb, all pain disappears regardless of the delivery method!
If you aren’t sure which delivery method is right for you (home birth, natural, or caesarean section), speak with your gynaecologist first to discuss the different options for the best way to give birth without pain.
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