Pain in Childbirth – Part 1

father in delivery room
Biological Purpose of Pain

The human body responds to pain with either the response to flee, or the response to stand and fight. Some responses are automatic, such as the immediate withdrawal of the hand when burned accidently. External pains can be avoided.

But, what is known as visceral (ves-er-al) pain cannot be escaped. These are ones from the internal organs, and the uterus is an internal organ. This is in the case of normal and natural function, not a diseased state.

Extreme hunger or excessive thirst are due to physiological imbalance. These can be painful, but satiated by eating and drinking.

How Pain is Felt

On the body surface and on the outside of various organs are nerve endings. These were heightened during man’s primitive days, as sensors when man was attacked by creatures with tooth and claw. Certain exterior areas are very sensitive such as the neck, under the arms, abdomen, and chest.

The internal organs also have receptors, but only register with pain mechanisms when the external area is severely injured. The interesting thing is “the intestines and uterus can be burnt, cauterized, handled and moved without any sensation of discomfort to the patient,…(34)”. But if either has been torn or stretched the receptors respond with pain. The question we have to ask is why only during birth is the sensation of pain felt…a normal function.

The nerves send the information to the part of the brain called the thalamus. Here the intensity of the pain is interpreted. Then they are sent to the outer cortex of the brain to be balanced and qualified. The response to the messages from the Thalamus would be dependent upon the magnitude of the message by the Thalamus. The strongest response is fear, which brings about the most motor responses.

The thing to emphasize here is that this response is recognized in the normal and uncomplicated labor. The degree of neuro-response mechanism is determined by the state of the particular woman who has the pain. One may get a sense of total agony, and feel she is in great discomfort. While another woman may sense that it is not intense agonizing pain. It depends on the mental state of the person.

For the woman in birth the first time, the pain sensation will cause tension. This tension sets the stage for a flight reaction, that causes the uterine muscles that are circumventing the lower portion of the uterus to tighten. The longitudinal muscles are then constricted.
It is the longitudinal muscles that work to assist the fetus to be expelled at birth. The circulatory muscular portion of the uterus causes the longitudinal muscles to struggle in the effort to dilate the cervix. They work in opposition rendering the lower portion of the uterus and outlet resistant to dilation. The two opposite reactions in the muscular structure is then interpreted by the brain as pain.

Therefore, the fear OF pain produces ACTUAL pain.

We are so conditioned to believe that childbirth must be painful. Even Hollywood’s depiction is of childbirth as a painful ordeal, showing women screaming in agony.
It does not have to be this way…

Pain in any other part of the body at any other time is an indicator or “alarm” that something is not right. In labor it is also…an indicator that you need to RELAX.

Pain in labor releases a hormone that inhibits labor.

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