It's possible to have labor with relatively little pain, but it's wise to prepare yourself by planning some strategies for coping with pain. Planning for pain is one of the best ways to ensure that you'll stay calm and be able to deal with it when the time comes.
Pain During Labor and Delivery
Pain during labor is caused by contractions of the muscles of the uterus and by pressure on the cervix. This pain may be felt as strong cramping in the abdomen, groin, and back, as well as an achy feeling. Some women experience pain in their sides or thighs as well.
Other causes of pain during labor include pressure on the bladder and bowels by the baby's head and the stretching of the birth canal and vagina.
Pain during labor is different for every woman. Although labor is often thought of as one of the more painful events in human experience, it ranges widely from woman to woman and even from pregnancy to pregnancy. Women experience labor pain differently — for some, it resembles menstrual cramps; for others, severe pressure; and for others, extremely strong waves that feel like diarrheal cramps.
It's often not the pain of each contraction on its own that women find the hardest, but the fact that the contractions keep coming — and that as labor progresses, there is less and less time between contractions to relax.
Preparing for Pain
To help with pain during labor, here are some things you can start doing before or during your pregnancy:
Regular and reasonable exercise (that your doctor says is OK) can help strengthen your muscles and prepare your body for the stress of labor. Exercise also can increase your endurance, which will come in handy if you have a long labor. The important thing to remember with any exercise is not to overdo it — and this is especially true if you're pregnant. Talk to your doctor about what he or she considers to be a safe exercise plan for you.
If you and your partner attend childbirth classes, you'll learn different techniques for handling pain, from visualization to stretches designed to strengthen the muscles that support your uterus. The two most common childbirth philosophies in the United States are the Lamaze technique and the Bradley method.
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