Oh Google -- you plethora of information overload, you. This morning, in preparing to write today's post, I found by accident the top questions people search for when it comes to childbirth. This is what appeared:
My first thought was, there's no surprise in the first question! As I read on, I found it interesting (and telling) that 50% of the questions were about pain, while the other half involved gathering how-to information. This seems to reveal that our fears about childbirth are bundled with a quest for more knowledge in order to help alleviate fears and increase our sense of control. Uncertainty and the unknown = fear.
I want to use this space to take a look at the top four questions, and provide some answers, Lamaze style (aka, evidence-based, empowering, up-to-date, self-directed).
How painful is birth?
Great question! And it's one almost everyone asks, either out loud or to themselves. Here's the deal: pain feels different for every person. There's no way, unequivocally, to say how childbirth will feel for you. That said, there are many commonalities that people describe as feeling painful or uncomfortable during childbirth. And yes, it is true that a small percentage of people report that their childbirth experience was not painful. Here's what will help you to know about the pain of childbirth:
- It's purposeful -- your body is working to birth a baby; it's not the same as the kind of pain felt from an injury
- It's intermittent -- you get many, frequent breaks in between contractions; childbirth pain is not constant
- It can be managed -- there are so many ways to reduce your pain in childbirth, many of which require nothing more than a good childbirth class, a supportive partner, and a good health care provider team
How do you push when giving birth?
This is another, very popular question. It's also the question that many parents wish they would have known more about prior to giving birth. The simplest answer to this question is: you push a baby out with the same muscles you use to poop, er, have a bowel movement. If you want more information than this (and I highly encourage you to learn more!), take a good childbirth class and spend some time reading this article, which is all about learning to push! When it comes to pushing, you can count on a few things to help you:
- Push according to your own urges (much like you would do if you were having a bowel movement)
- Avoid an epidural or turn down or off the epidural so you can better feel the urge to push
- Push in upright positions to work with gravity
What are the different ways to deliver a baby?
This is an interesting question because it leaves up to interpretation what the word "ways" means. The obvious first answer is that you can either have a baby vaginally or by cesarean. But the wonderful thing about the evolution of choices in childbirth is that you have many options you have when giving birth to a baby! Take a look:
- At home, in the hospital, or in a birth center
- With a doctor, obstetrician, or midwife
- With or without a doula
- Supported by a family member, partner, spouse, friend, or none of the above!
- With or without pain relieving medications
- In a position you choose that is most comfortable
- In the water
Why does it hurt to give birth?
As mentioned above, the pain of childbirth is often referred to as "pain with a purpose," meaning that the pain is a result of processes that are required to take place to give birth to a baby. There are physiological reasons why childbirth is felt as painful. The uterus is known as the strongest muscle in the human body. It also expands to 500 times its prepregnancy size during pregnancy. Now imagine this very large organ and very strong muscle repeatedly contracting with enough intense force to push out a baby! You're going to feel something. Depending on baby's position while in labor, a person can also experience back pain, which is caused by baby pressing on nerves that cause pain.
The other part of birth that is most commonly described as painful is when baby is crowning, or the head is pushing through the opening of the vagina. During this process, delicate tissues of skin are stretched to allow for baby to pass through. For many, this time is briefly painful as the space is widened. That said, this area of skin is specifically designed, during birth, to stretch! Plus, baby's head is soft and molds to be able to pass through a smaller opening.