Some people compare labour pain to that of breaking bones. Besides scaring pregnant people, that’s not an accurate comparison. On the other hand, some women share stories of pain-free birth. Here are 5 ways the sensations felt in labour are different than “broken-bone pain”.
Broken-bone pain is unrelenting and doesn’t go away without strong pain meds; labour pain comes and goes in a rhythmical manner. In fact, throughout labour, much more time is spent in the rest between contractions. Even in advanced labour, most contractions last between 60-75 seconds but can sometimes get to 90 seconds. Then there’s a rest before the next once. In active labour that rest will generally be between 1-3 minutes. In earlier labour that rest will be up to 10 minutes. There is no rest with broken-bone pain. It’s constant.
Broken-bone pain is all encompassing, resulting in the release of stress hormones and injury responses in our body. Labour pain is accompanied by powerful pain-killing hormones such as endorphins. The female body is equipped for labour with strong, naturally occurring hormones that are released as labour progresses. The effect of these hormones has been compared to morphine by physiologists. (However those hormones are not as concentrated and isolated like morphine. Still, that’s a powerful comparison!) Stress makes pain worse.
Broken bones are a terrible injury; labour is a normal human process.
Broken bones are due to an accident; labour is a known and sometimes planned event. Therefore we can prepare for the intensity of labour. There are many helpful tools and strategies for comfort measures that can be done by the labouring person or their birth companions. We teach many of these in our How to Ease Labour Pain Class.
Doulas! Birth doulas can make a significant difference in how labour is experienced and felt. There’s ample research showing the benefits of doula support through birth, including shorter labours, half the rate of Caesareans, significantly fewer requests for epidurals. To my knowledge, there’s no such thing as “broken-bone doulas”. Everyone around someone with broken bones is providing medical care – good thing too. Ideally, labouring people will have someone knowledgeable with them whose only job is to provide comfort and support.
Broken bone pain is measured in weeks and months; labour is measured in hours.
* It’s interesting to note that I’ve only heard men make this comparison. Many pregnant women fear this will be the case but I’ve never heard anyone who’s gone through labour and had a past experience of broken bones say they were the same thing. I’m one of them. A couple of years before being pregnant, I broke my pelvis. There is absolutely no comparison between the two events.
One of the benefits of a planned caesarean is that there’s time to consider options, ask questions and make choices beforehand.
Many hospitals are willing to take extra steps to make a caesarean birth more gentle and family friendly. The following is a list of practises that are being requested as part of a “Gentle Caesarean”. Yes I’m aware that the very nature of a caesarean and the postpartum recovery do not seem gentle to most people. However I appreciate that there are medical staff working hard to make the experience as positive, healthy and family-friendly as possible.
Watching your baby being born. Clear surgical drapes, surgical drapes with a panel that can be lowered to a clear panel, or having the drapes lowered entirely.
Cord cutting. Most hospitals don’t allow anyone other than staff to cut the cord in the surgical field. But they can leave a longer cord and have the partner trim it – like a ceremonial cutting of the cord.
Skin-to-skin contact with the birthing parent, from the chest up.
Maternal heart monitors on their side or back, leaving the chest available for holding baby skin-to-skin.
Music of your choice – played on the sound system or your headphones.
Support through the entire procedure, from the moment of entering the O.R. until heading to the recovery room. Most hospitals allow one support person in the O.R. and recovery room. Some allow doulas to come in as well.
Healthy baby stays with the parent(s); family stays together in O.R. and recovery room. In some hospitals babies born by caesarean are automatically taken to NICU or a medical nursery for observation.
Photos / videos – always bring your device. There’s often a nurse who is waiting for the baby to be born and will take some photos of the birth, the first time parents hold the baby, etc. There are many beautiful moments to celebrate at any birth, including caesareans.
Flora for the baby – vaginal seeding. You might ask for a GBS test a week before the surgery before going ahead with this. Note that this is still new enough that most medical staff will not participate. Plan to DIY.
Covid testing options – find out if this is something that will affect your birth. What happens if you take the test or don’t take the test?
Any cultural / spiritual aspects you might wish to include. I’ve seen an obstetrician lead a prayer before starting the surgery and have joined the surgical team in singing happy birthday to a newborn.
Obstetrician of your choice. Certainly a perk of scheduling your birth.
Volume of monitoring machines – ask for the volume to be turned up or down if it’s reassuring for you, or not, to hear things like fetal heartbeat, maternal heart beat.
Delayed cord clamping – up to 1 min is considered safe with caesareans. (I’ve heard of a hospital that keeps the placenta and baby attached after the placenta is removed – definitely not standard of care in most places. Never hurts to ask.)
In some facilities the things on this list may already be standard care. In others, requesting these things will provide an opportunity for staff to gain a new perspective. Patient safety is the primary concern. Some of these practices may be considered safe or not, possible or not, depending on patient health, the facility and/or the staff working in the O.R.
Speak with your doctor well ahead of time about the things that interest you from this list.
If you get a sea of “no ways,” then ask why not. There could be valid reasons or it could be one unbending person. If it’s the latter then you might wish to explore working with another doctor or giving birth in a different facility, if that’s an option.
Ideally, you will learn these things before 36 weeks of pregnancy.
This list includes things available in most city hospitals, where units are specialized. In smaller hospitals, there may not be a specific birth and/or mother-baby unit and some of the services and amenities listed may not be available. Small town hospitals may have a birth room rather than a unit, and then the family stays in the general acute care unit. Sorting these details out is part of good birth-prep.
Name & location of hospital / birth centre
Do they offer pre-registration or do you register on the way in?
What you need to bring
Birth bag / supplies
Documents for registration
Requirements (e.g. hours, ID)
Payment required – covered by provincial health, private insurance, or out of pocket
General policies e.g. most hospitals have no-scent policies
Parking / Transit
Methods of payment
Street parking? Hours/tickets
Access to hospital doors
Entry & Registration:
Entry to go in as a patient – which doors to use and hours for each
Entry for support persons
Security / screening requirements
Documents / ID required
Who can be with you?
Path from door to elevator to birth unit
Assessment area (documents needed, support persons allowed?)
Private or shared space?
Support – who can go in, when, and in what areas
Caesarean / O.R. – who can be with you
Recovery Room / Post-op – who can be with you, how long are you there?
Food – Galley / kitchenette & rules
Food machines – location, form of payment, products
Washrooms for patients – shared or private?
Washrooms for partner / other supports
Fridges in the room?
Labour tools such as birth balls, birthing stools, squat bars, electric beds
Lighting – windows, blinds, dimmers?
Shower / bath – shared or private
Supplies – soap, shower curtain etc
Where to put your stuff
Mother-Baby / Postpartum Unit
Is it the same as the birth room or a separate unit?
Path from the birth unit and also from the entry/exits
Length of admission
Early discharge and extra nights
Visitor policy – hours, numbers, ages
Shared or private rooms
If there are both, how do you get a private room
Support people – who can stay overnight
Sleeping arrangements for baby
Sleeping arrangements for partner / support person(s)
Entry / exit doors & hours e.g. food run, visitors
Food – Galley / kitchenette / food machines
Are patient meals provided? How many daily, special requests/diets
Washrooms for patient
Washrooms for partner / other supports
Fridges in the room or availability of other places to store perishables
Security in the room
TV / wifi
Shower / bath and supplies
What is supplied and what do you need to bring
Where to put your stuff
What is the shortest / easiest way out
Need to show a car-seat to the staff?
Services and Other Units
Quiet spaces – chapel, multi-faith center, Indigenous services
Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)
Special Care Nursery
Meetings / classes available during admission
Special services – e.g. social workers, translators, spiritual/faith leaders, help for special circumstances or unexpected outcomes
Did you know you don’t have to lay on your back to give birth?
Even though almost no one says, “I want to lay on my back to give birth”, that’s how the majority of women in North America – probably other places too – do it. Why? Because even if they’re in a more comfortable position, they’re told, “OK it’s time to have your baby – get on your back.”
I’ve seen many people give birth on all hands & knees, squatting, on their side or even standing. Midwives and many doctors know how to catch babies in any position. It’s just a habit for the staff to tell their patients to get on their back.
How can you avoid this uncomfortable and ineffective position?
Don’t get into the position in the first place. It’s hard to get out of it once you’re there.
Just say NO!!! Or say nothing but give a good emphatic head shake.
When you get bugged over and over, keep saying NO and shaking your head!!
Sounds obvious but saying NO and continuing to refuse is not that easy. Check out my video about the Tend & Befriend Stress Response that makes it so difficult to not just do what we’re told during labour.
Here are a few tips:
We do the thing we’re used to when we’re in a stressful or vulnerable situation – which describes birth for many people. Practise getting on your bed on “all 4-s”. Every night, just get on your hands and knees and do a few little stretches – even 5 seconds – then lay down. It will start to feel normal to get on a bed without laying down.
During labour, crawl up onto the bed and take positions that feel good for you. No one will wrestle you to your back. At least I sure hope not – if that happens, it’s assault.
Ensure you have a birth companion who can advocate for you and help you find your voice and your best position.
Avoid getting on your back for cervical checks when the birth is imminent, as it’s hard to get out of that position. If you know your baby is moving down well maybe there’s no need to check. Many MCP know how to check a cervix in a variety of positions.
If you have an epidural and are confined to bed, there are still many positions available to you.
You don’t need to ask permission to assume positions of your choice! However, if there’s a medical complication that requires certain interventions or positions, then it may be safest for you to give birth on your back – but those are not common.
Of course if it feels good to be on your back, then great – go for it! It’s very uncommon but possible. In my dreamy, ideal birth world, everyone would be in the position that feels best for them.
I’m AE, prenatal educator and doula. You can find all kinds of information about classes, pregnancy, birth and postpartum on my sites listed below. I wish you an empowering birth. Thanks for watching.
At least not in the North American Medical Model, in which the great majority of people give birth. It requires intentional preparation and planning.
Here are Seven Ways to Help Make A Natural Birth Happen:
Strong determination and mind-set. Birth requires us to dig deep.
Intentional and deliberate preparation and planning
Get informed through good prenatal classes, positive stories to find the faith
A solid birth-plan that communicates your wishes
Learn how the female body works in the birthing process
Understand what makes the pain or intensity of labour increase and decrease
Dealing with past trauma might be required
Asking questions to make informed choices
Saying no; being prepared to say no over and over if needed
Tools to deal with intensity
E.g. hypnobirthing, meditation, mindful yoga practise
Positions that help
Touch / massage
Setting the tone in your birthing space
Water – bath, birth-pool (natures epidural)
Dream-Team helps a lot
Support person(s) that:
Are a loving and/or grounding presence
Aren’t afraid of a birthing person’s pain, sounds, behaviours
Know how to provide comfort
Will advocate for you
Doulas – research shows the presence of a doula leads to:
Shorter and less complicated births
Half the rates of caesareans
Significantly fewer requests for pain meds
Significantly more eye contact and touch between the labouring person and their partner
If giving birth in the medical model, a medical care provider who supports natural birth. Ideally:
You know them
You feel comfortable with them
Will respect your decisions
Offer shared decision making / informed choice
Their methods and ideas about birth gel with yours
Baby being in the optimal fetal position before labour starts
Big factor in determining length of labour and intensity
Factor in some interventions being used
Some good luck!
Health of mother and baby going into labour
Medical care provider working that day
When labour starts
How long it lasts
Allow labour to start naturally. An induced labour is a completely different experience, usually more painful and birth turns into a medical event. Barring medical reasons, be patient and wait for labour to start on its own.
No matter how labour goes or what interventions are, or are not used, birth is hard work – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. But women have been doing it for millennia and you can too!