We have reached the term of pregnancy, the presumed date of delivery is just around the corner and slowly one of the most atavistic, most archaic fears of our life begins to emerge: the fear of labor and the pain of childbirth. Some say that giving birth is a bit like dying, others that it is absolutely the most beautiful experience in the world. I will try to explain what i are birth pains, how they manifest and how to manage them.
What are the pains of childbirth?
The term "birth pains" is a popular term for uterine contractions of childbirth. Contraction is exactly what happens to any muscle during exercise: explained in very simple words, under the pressure of certain types of hormones and neurotransmitters, the muscle fibers are activated and shortened, producing a movement. In this case, the uterus is made up of involuntary muscle fibers that regulate, in labor, a hormone in particular: oxytocin. The triggering of the contractions that lead to childbirth is all regulated by the levels of endogenous oxytocin (that is, produced by our own brain) or exogenous (in the case of the administration of chemical oxytocin) present in the blood.
How to recognize the pains of childbirth?
Surely in the last weeks of pregnancy you will have experienced the feeling of hardening of the belly, something that has never happened before that has made you stop and start worrying. Those contractions are not the contractions of labor though, they are called instead preparatory contractions. Somehow the uterus, being a muscle, must be trained to the effort it will have to make in labor and then slowly the body sets it in motion.
The difference between this type of contraction and that referable to labor can be explained through some characteristics typical only of the second.
- First of all the polarity, that is, the way the contraction spreads. In labor, the contraction starts at the bottom of the uterus, near the diaphragm, and extends downwards to the cervix. This type of activity allows a kind of "squeezing", which helps the baby to slowly advance into the birth canal.
- Second key feature is the rhythmicity of contractions. At the beginning of labor you will feel sparse contractions, without regularity. This regularity will slowly be assumed as labor progresses and will increase as the hours pass.
- Also the intensity of the contraction it is an important feature. In the preparatory contractions you realize that it is happening but it is not painful, only slightly annoying. The contractions of labor, on the other hand, make you stop any activity you are doing, make you focus your attention on what is happening to your belly at that moment and make you doubt that maybe we are there. It is a chemical process that from muscle contraction leads directly to the brain and its thoughts. The intensity of the contraction is also increasing throughout the course of labor. Presumably this increasing intensity is given by the fact that our body wants to give the uterus the possibility to get used to supporting the effort, so it never starts with unsustainable contractions.
- And finally the duration. Labor contractions of childbirth are characterized by a increasing duration, first a few seconds to get to the end of labor for up to a minute. Not the whole period of contraction can be perceived by the woman in labor, often the pain is felt only at the moment in which it is maximum and in the period immediately before and immediately after. Only instrumental measurements and the hands of a midwife can accurately tell you the exact duration. To be able to give you a more precise indication of how to identify the typical contractions of labor, I can tell you that on average, we speak of active labor when there are 7 contractions in 15 minutes lasting a minimum of 15-20 seconds each.
What are the pains of childbirth?
It is very difficult to say what are childbirth pains like, having a term of comparison for such a unique, particular and personal event is not obvious. This is because each of us has a different sensitivity, has different life experiences and different pain experiences. However, I can report my experience as a midwife, what the women I assist and follow during their birth process tell me. Some women report a pain very similar to that of severe renal colic. An intense and piercing pain that can travel from the back to the pubis. Others tell me the same type of pain but characterized by its extent. That is, it is not a painful sting but a kind of belt around the waist that tightens more and more and then releases. Of course, for those who have never experienced renal colic this is difficult to associate. Women who have never had this type of experience speak of the pains of childbirth as of pain from dental surgery without anesthesia, others as something that seems to split you vertically in two. In short, unfortunately it is not possible to be able to give a unique similarity for all women, each experience is unique and based both on the characteristics of the woman and on her ability to manage pain.
Are the pains bearable?
Saying that labor does not hurt is the same as saying that getting a hammer on your finger is almost pleasant. Labor hurts, it is useless to deny it. The tolerability of this type of pain certainly depends from woman to woman but also from the preparation process at the time of delivery. I try to explain myself better, every woman (actually every human being) has her own pain threshold, and there is no right and wrong threshold. Some women manage to endure the most intense pain ever experienced (and childbirth is one of them) without noticing its extreme intensity. Others, on the other hand, at the first contraction begin to complain, squirm and argue that they can't do it. Both paths are correct because they are personal and both can lead to a serene and positive childbirth experience. So, what I would like to suggest is this: whether you are lionesses or kittens do not be discouraged. You have the resources to go through labor, and you must expect your way of dealing with pain to be respected by the birth practitioners.
How to deal with the pains of childbirth
What I like to explain in the birth accompaniment courses is what function this pain of childbirth has. This way you can be aware of what is going to happen to you and you can find the resources for face it. The pain is basically caused by the muscle contraction that stretches the tendons, and by the baby's advancement in the birth canal, which presupposes the crushing of the nerve roots present and the consequent sensation of pain. As for the purely physical function of pain, it serves to advance the child towards birth. But there is more.
There is a purely psychological-emotional component of pain. Intense pain triggers its natural antidote in the brain, namely endorphins. Endorphins are the hormones of pleasure, the hormones of positive experiences. These hormones have a dual maternal and baby function. In the mother they are able to generate that state of "trance" which excludes the cerebral cortex (seat of rational reasoning and the newest part of our brain), to activate instead the more archaic and instinctual part of the brain, seat of animal functions such as that of perpetration of the species. Basically it brings us back to the ability to give birth that is inherent in animals. In the child, the production of maternal endorphins, on the other hand, generates protection from the pain and fatigue of labor (in which he too is an active part) starting the imprinting to life in a positive and non-traumatic way.
That said, there are also gods methods for relieving pain. I will not deliberately touch on the existence of drug therapy (the epidural) for the reduction of pain, although I still consider it one of the possibilities that the woman, according to her opinion, must evaluate. Let's talk about natural analgesic techniques.
- First, warm applications or baths can help relieve pain. The heat it stretches and relaxes muscles and ligaments and consequently relieves the pain sensation.
- I massages localized on the site where pain is felt can help, clearly it must be the woman herself who feels the need. Some women don't want to be touched so if the massage bothers you don't hesitate to say no.
- And finally the change of position. During labor, the pain also shifts depending on the position in which the hardest part of the baby's body is located - the head. Changing positions depending on the sensation can help reduce it. For example, if the pain is located in the front, in the pubic area, positions on the side can help relieve it. If, on the other hand, it is located behind, at the height of the sacrum, positions on all fours or leaning on a ball can help to unload a little weight and therefore reduce discomfort. Clearly every woman has a way of moving dictated by her feelings about her during labor and by the indications that, however unthinkable it may be, she is able to give the baby. So I advise you to try to listen to what your body wants to do and to indulge it. If she suggests you lift one leg do it, if she suggests you dance do it as well as if she tells you to scream. Every woman deserves her labor to be a beautiful experience and only you can know and manage your pain in the way you feel.