Can you really have a “painless childbirth”?

  1. I’ve had 2 students in 17 years tell me they had painless childbirth.
  2. I experienced 45 minutes during the labor of my second child during which I felt no pain, but still had contractions- thus a part of my labor was  painless childbirth.
  3. But most people will tell you they experienced some level of “pain” during childbirth.

Is a “painless childbirth” about having no physical sensation? 

There are a couple of programs offering Hypnosis for Labor and Birth that promise a painless childbirth. But are they truly talking about no pain at all? Or are they talking about changing your reaction to pain. Every action causes a reaction and, knowing this, Dr. Robert Bradley was one of the first to help women change their reaction to the intensity of labor and birth. The Bradley Method teaches women to turn inward, to release and let go, using different relaxation techniques. It also teaches mothers and their coaches to understand the emotional map of labor, and the physiology of labor. This knowledge helps take away fear and opens the possibility that they may experience a painless childbirth.

Take away fear and anxiety, and your experience of pain lessens.

Science is finally beginning to understand that our bodies have an incredible hormonal system, that, if undisturbed, can give us a joyous, rapturous, even an ecstatic birth or what some might call a “painless childbirth.” During labor and birth, our bodies produce the hormone oxytocin. This is the same hormone humans experience when they fall in love, hug or kiss a loved one, and have an orgasm. Oxytocin can influence not only our physiology, but also how we are feeling about what is happening to us.  Dr. Sarah J. Buckley describes how labor and going through the birth canal is good for both baby and mother. Instead of people dreading their labor, they can look forward to it, enjoy it, knowing that they are doing something good and inherently safe for their baby.

In the early 1900’s James Braid discovered that patients were naturally anxious before surgery. If he was able to use rhythm, and techniques of monotony (hypnosis) to induce a sleep like state of relaxation. He could get patients to discuss their fears and help alleviate their fears associated with the surgery before the operation. This same technique is used in some childbirth preparation classes and some call it hypnosis and some call it relaxation techniques for labor.

The dictionary definition of Hypnosis

“1. An artificially induced altered state of consciousness, characterized by

heightened suggestibility and receptivity to direction.

2. A sleep-like condition.

3.  (Psychology) an artificially induced state of relaxation and concentration in which deeper parts of the mind become more accessible: used clinically to reduce reaction to pain, to encourage free association, etc “The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Replace Fear with Knowledge

Learning the techniques necessary to relax during labor is an important element in preparing for the birth of your child. But parents need to know more, much more to ensure the safe arrival of their children into the world. By fully educating themselves, they replace fear with knowledge. 

  • This can increase the possibility of having a “painless childbirth” or childbirth without suffering.
  • In this day and age of numerous interventions and the medical management of labor, anticipating any and all of the possible scenarios and knowing the questions to ask can help ensure safety and comfort. 
  • Labor and birth is a normal natural physiological process. 
  • When we have a full understanding of all of the hormonal systems, the physiology of what is happening in our bodies, it is much easier to relax, let go, and trust our bodies to do the job of birthing our babies.

While going through this normal process of labor and birth, I can assure you, you will experience pain on some level whether you feel intense emotion, or physical intensity. Some women have even experienced orgasm!  You will experience intense emotions as your hormones surge through your body. 

What happens in labor?

  1. The oxytocin will cause your uterus to contract, thickening the top of your uterus, opening the cervix, helping to push your baby down and turn your baby into just the right position to leave the womb world. 
  2. To help you deal with the intensity of contractions, your body will produce endorphins.
  3. The more relaxed you are, the more endorphins you will produce.
  4. The more you can let go, the faster your baby will be born. 
  5. The stress hormones that you produce will cause your baby to produce stress hormones, which stimulate circulation, his/her immune system, and help your baby breath outside the womb. 
  6. “High maternal oxytocin levels during labor and birth also benefit the baby. Research has found that maternal oxytocin crosses the placenta and enters the fetal brain during labor, when it acts to protect brain cells by switching them off,(Tyzio, Cossart et al. 2006) This is beneficial because it reduces the amount of oxygen that the baby’’s brain requires at this time, when contractions can reduce blood and oxygen supply.”3.

Pain with a Positive Purpose

When you understand that the pain has a positive purpose, then you may accept that it is not the same kind of pain that indicates something is wrong. With this acceptance comes a different perspective on your labor.

  1. You may not perceive the contractions of your uterus as painful, so much as an intense feeling.
  2. Some childbirth methods call uterine contractions “surges”. They are in actuality a contraction of a large involuntary muscle that come in surges, and waves, building to a peak, then simply going away allowing the mother to rest and regroup. 
  3. But if you are told you will feel no pain, you will undoubtedly be taken by surprise when active labor kicks in.  Even if you do feel pain, it isn’t something you can’t handle, and it isn’t something to be afraid of.

Pain with a Sacred and Safe Purpose

Anticipate that you will have pain with a sacred and safe purpose. You may experience it as a “Painless Childbirth” when you understand why and how this labor is happening. Know that it is truly something you can handle without medication, for most women.  Labor and birth are inherently safe without intervention.  Plan on reacting with deep breathing, rhythmic movement, different positions, low, deep moaning sounds, and a belief that you can actually enjoy this journey. Slow down, and enjoy the sacred experience and journey of bringing your baby into the world.