By Connie Livingston
There are many questions that arise during pregnancy, and one of the most vital topics for pregnant mothers is that of the pain of childbirth. On television, in books, on the internet – all avenues of media cover childbirth pain in some way or another. Most of the time, however, it is exaggerated or made to look unbearable/comical. Therefore, mixed messages are sent to pregnant mothers and the questions remain unanswered and in many instances, remained unasked.
Pain during childbirth is a different type of pain than most people routinely feel. Unlike a headache, labor pain is not non-stop. Rather, it comes and goes similar to ocean waves and begins gradually and build with intensity.
Unlike a broken bone, labor pain is not an indication that something is wrong in the body. Instead, it an indication that the body is functioning properly and well. Furthermore, labor pain is pain with a purpose – to give birth to your baby!
There are many ways to raise your pain tolerance without the use of medication. Well-documented techniques include breathing techniques (such as those taught in Lamaze®Classes), relaxation techniques, massage, aromatherapy, the presence of a support person or doula, frequent change of positions and hydrotherapy have been shown to significantly reduce the sensations of pain as felt by laboring mothers.
Pain medications are also available for mothers in labor. The general route that any medication takes in a pregnant mother is that the medication is ingested by the mother, travels through her body to the placenta, crosses the placenta, enters the baby’s body, returns across the placenta and enters the mother’s liver for breakdown.
Babies who are born under the influence of medications such as narcotics or epidurals may experience a variety of side effects after birth. During labor, medications can cause fetal distress, which is often picked up on the fetal heart monitor. This may cause care providers to perform interventions that would not normally be a part of the birthing routine such as cesarean birth (for the fetal distress).
Likewise after birth, babies may be drowsy, unable to bond with mother/father, unable to latch on to the breast and/or have a delay in reflexes until the medication is broken down by their own livers. Some side effects may last a while since a newborn’s liver may take several days to fully reach maturity.
For more information about pain and medications during labor and birth, please visit these websites:
Plus, you may find these books helpful (all available from Capers Bookstore www.capersbookstore.com.au)
Pregnancy, Childbirth & The Newborn by Penny Simkin and others
The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin
A Modern Woman’s Guide to a Natural Empowering Birth by Katrina Zaslavsky
Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering by Dr. Sarah Buckley
Your Best Birth by Abby Epstein and Ricki Lake
Preparing for a Gentle Birth: The Pelvis in Pregnancy by Blandine Calais-Germain and Nuria Vives Pares
Connie Livingston is a nurse and certified Lamaze and ICEA (International Childbirth Education Association) childbirth educator. She is a frequent speaker at conferences in the US and Canada and as a birth researcher is a popular writer for magazines and journals. Her website, www.birthsource.com, contains many useful articles for expectant parents and maternity professionals.
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