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How Painful is Childbirth?

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Every woman's experience of childbirth is different. This is because no two births are the same and each woman's pain threshold differs. A woman's body has to go through a huge transition in order to give birth to her baby; unfortunately this means some pain will be involved.

The first phase

When labour begins you will start to feel tightening either in your back or across the top of the womb. This is the cervix beginning to open in preparation for the delivery of your baby and it may feel similar to intense premenstrual cramps. As the contractions come and go in the beginning you should be able to carry about your business as usual. Some women go for walks, some do the shopping, some continue to work on the computer. Often just taking a paracetamol can help with pain management at the offset.

The contractions will gradually become longer, more intense and more frequent. Again, the experience differs from woman to woman but generally pain is felt in the back and across the abdomen. Sometimes the contractions can be felt in the legs; this can often feel like a dull aching sensation. Where possible, it is good to remain as active as you can. Good activities include walking around the house or hospital and rocking backwards and forwards on a birthing ball. Keeping active not only helps to move labour along, it also gives you something else to focus on. When a contraction comes it can cause your body to tense, however deep breathing will help. At this stage it is good to remember that with each contraction you are one step closer to meeting your baby.

The first phase of labour generally lasts approximately 12 hours if it is a first labour, although it can last much longer. If you are feeling tired, try to sleep between contractions as this will give you the energy needed to work with each contraction when it comes. In subsequent deliveries this phase is usually around 7 hours, but it is good to remember that every labour is different and timings can vary.

The second phase

The second phase of labour begins when the cervix is open and you are ready to deliver your baby. The pain will now be concentrated in the pelvic and vaginal area. Some women describe the sensation as feeling like they need to empty their bowel; this is because the baby's head presses against the back passage as they descend into the birth canal. Depending on your choice of pain relief you will be able to feel when you are ready to start pushing. This pain can often be more bearable because you are actively helping yourself by pushing. While your baby's head is being delivered the area between your vagina and anus (called the perineum) stretches and you may feel a burning/stinging pain, however this is soon replaced by a feeling of elation as you get the first glimpse of your baby.

The second phase of labour usually lasts around 45 minutes to 2 hours if it is a first labour and 15 minutes to 45 minutes in subsequent deliveries.

The third phase

During the third phase of labour the placenta is delivered. This normally takes between 5-15 minutes after the birth of your baby. The midwife will help you to deliver the placenta and while some pushing may be required it is rarely a painful experience.

The most important thing to remember is that at the end of your journey through childbirth you will finally get to meet your baby.

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