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.

How to Avoid Birthing on Your Back

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?

  1. Don’t get into the position in the first place. It’s hard to get out of it once you’re there.
  2. Just say NO!!!  Or say nothing but give a good emphatic head shake.
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Ensure you have a birth companion who can advocate for you and help you find your voice and your best position.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Hospital Birth Room Set-up 101

One of the important tasks I do for my clients is to set up their hospital birth room for comfort, safety and efficiency.  Here’s a list of what I take care of I go into a birth room.  In my local hospital the birth rooms all have a small closet, mini-fridge, blanket-warmer, some empty shelves and an adjoining private washroom with a tub. If you’re DIYing then find out ahead of time what your local birth rooms are like and modify as needed.