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Redefining Pain In Labour

When I ask my classes what is a fact they know about birth, invariably 60+% of the answers are usually, "It's painful". And of course that answer leads us to a feeling of dread. We don't want to be in pain. For our whole lives we have been told that pain is bad. And for the most part that's true.

Sick pain is a signal to our brains that tells us something is wrong. That we need to seek to help and get, whatever is causing the pain, fixed so that the pain will stop. However there is another pain in our lives that we may not have consider and don't see in the same way as we do sick pain.

Healthy pain. Stay will me, there is a pain we experience that isn't a trigger to tell us something is wrong. This pain tells us that our body is working really hard and being pushed to its ultimate limits. For example. Imagine a marathon runner, as they approach the end of the race or even part way through, they can feel their heart pounding, their legs are screaming, they are on fire as they are kept moving. Their back is tense and aching as their heels hit the pavement and their feet are practically numb from the exertion and beating they are going through. What they are experiencing is healthy pain. As as they hit that breaking point, they force themselves to push past those pain barriers and keep going. We describe what they are feeling as healthy pain. The exertion you feel as your body moves toward its top level of endurance. There is nothing wrong, there is nothing broken that needs fixing, it's just hard work.

Now let's look at how we react to both kinds of pain. With someone experiencing sick pain, we react with concern, we hold the person, we frantically get them help. Taking them to a doctor, treating the pathology to eliminate the pain. And most importantly, giving pain medication.

However with the healthy pain of a marathon runner, what do we do? We cheer them on, we ring cow bells, we shout how good they are doing, we stand and clap and yell as they pass. They are an athlete showing us their power. When they look like they are hitting those pain barriers, their face grimaces and their speed slows, so we yell and cheer louder to bolster them on through that barrier.

What if we looked at the labouring parent as an athlete? What if we looked at them as their body working at peak performance? What if, as a labouring parent, you thought of those birthing sensations as functional, purposeful, and powerful. The energy of those contractions, are not an outside force working against you, but a powerful energy, created by you, to bring your baby into the world. Just as we push ourselves to the brink in a strenuous activity like running, YOU are pushing yourself to the brink during labour. Yes, you are doing this. The only difference between running a marathon and labour is, one is a conscious action you choose to do, and the other is a physiological action you have no control over. Either way, the power and energy you are creating in both situations is coming from you. So the contractions can't be any stronger than you, because they are you.

Now with the labouring parent being treated like an athlete, how do we react to their labour? We cheer for them, we encourage them, we support them, giving them water and food, breathing with them, rubbing their tired muscles and being a physical support for the various positions their body will take. Hell, even throw in some cow bell. The world needs a little more cow bell. And if at any point the labouring parent needs more, if they have reached the last barrier they are willing to work through and they want medical pain relief, we support that too.

Labour is not just a physical exercise, it is also a mental exercise, and keeping your mind positive and remembering these sensations are just you can help keep you focused on the journey at hand and not move you into a negative head space. So if you are a soon to be labouring parent, look at the internal dialogue you have going on in your head, and change how you think about your upcoming marathon. You are an incredible athlete about to run an amazingly hard but rewarding race. You got this. And you aren't doing it alone. You have a support team with you to get you over those hard parts.

Next week we will look at the hormones involved in labour and how the uterus works!!!


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