Pain, unfortunately, is a part of pregnancy and childbirth. Many women experience physical pain early in their pregnancies and this early pregnancy pain can include general joint pain and pregnancy back pain. As your unborn child gets bigger you might experience round ligament pain as the weight of your baby puts increasing pressure on your joints. Pregnancy pelvic pain is also common towards the end of the third trimester for the same reasons. Pain can occur in early pregnancy, but most women think about actual labor and delivery when they think about pregnancy-related pain.
Cause of Childbirth Pain
So, what causes childbirth pain? The answer might initially appear obvious and logical. After all, a large item (the baby) is being pushed through a small body part (the cervix and vagina) which needs to stretch and expand significantly to accommodate the large item. Of course this is going to cause pain!
Back in ancient times, when people didn't fully understand the birthing process, many cultures believed that labor pains were simply a reaction to a baby's frantic attempt to fight his way out of the womb. With the influence of Christianity came the belief that labor pains were caused by God and that God made it painful for women to give birth as punishment for Eve's sins.
Some modern physicians and midwives have a different perception on the causes of childbirth pain. They say three factors (physical sources, body mechanics and anxiety) contribute to the pain of labor.
Physical sources of pain are obvious and were already briefly touched upon. The uterus must contract, the cervix must dilate and the vagina must stretch in order for a baby to be born. Body mechanics refer to the position of the muscles during labor. Posture and positions that minimize external pressure on the uterus, pelvic floor and back can help minimize pain during labor. Anxiety is the way the body naturally responds to stress. The connection between anxiety and labor is that anxiety is caused by fear and fear ultimately causes the muscles to tense up causing more pain.
Pregnancy Pain Management
Throughout history, especially before the time that birth became a medically managed event, herbs were often used to treat early signs of pregnancy pain and labor pain. Sometimes massage and certain types of stretching movements were encouraged. The Chinese used acupuncture and acupressure. These methods are still used for natural pain management during pregnancy and labor although herb use is limited.
Medicines for treatment of pain during pregnancy are often discouraged since it's not always known if the medication will adversely affect the growing baby. Alternative methods (like yoga, massage, meditation, chiropractics, a change in diet, and acupuncture) are encouraged. But medicated pain management during labor is common.
Types of medicated pain can be divided into four categories: local anesthetic, regional anesthetic, general anesthesia and gas.
Local anesthetic is an injection that numbs the area around the vagina and anus, but doesn't relieve uterine contractions. It's usually used when an episiotomy needs to be performed.
Regional anesthetic is either a spinal or an epidural. With a spinal the medication is injected directly into the coating surrounding the spinal cord. A spinal works faster than an epidural but can cause nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure or headaches. With an epidural the medication is injected outside the fluid sac surrounding the spinal column and provides continuous pain relief throughout your labor.
General anesthesia makes a woman unconscious either through an injection of medication or inhaling the medication. It's used in major surgeries and only rarely during pregnancy when a c-section is necessary.
Gas for labor pain management is usually colorless, odorless nitrous oxide. It works by depressing the brain's normal function and ultimately the perception of pain. The pain is still there, but it doesn't seem as bad. Nitrous oxide is inhaled and takes 10 to 15 seconds to reach the brain. It leaves the body after a minute or two.