5 Ways Labour Pain is Different than Broken-Bone Pain

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”.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Broken bones are a terrible injury; labour is a normal human process.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Choices in Planned Caesarean Births

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.