Read this blog post to find out if giving birth is painful! Written by a labour and delivery nurse.

Is giving birth painful? What does labour really feel like? I’m sure this is a question every single pregnant person has asked themselves at least once!

I don’t think one person can really answer this question.

In my experience, contractions really hurt! Once my water broke, they got really intense. I had really strong period like cramps that seemed to wrap around my whole body from front to back. The pain took me out of my body. I felt like I was in another universe and that everything around me was surreal.

I remember looking out onto the parking lot and seeing our car. Only I felt like it wasn’t my car but that it belonged to the woman in labour! I can’t really explain it fully but it was like an out-of-body experience.

What is the best way to find out how labour feels? I think the only way to know is to ask those who have gone through it! This fun little post is based on information gathered from many women who have experienced labour themselves.

Thank you, ladies, for sharing your stories! Everyone in this post is anonymous, but each and every one of them is a real woman with real experience.

Why are Contractions Painful?

Your cervix is meant to be closed tightly while you’re pregnant. This is to make sure your baby is held in your uterus until you are full term!

Once it’s time for your baby to be born, your cervix needs to open up to let the baby pass through. In order to open the cervix, the top of your uterus contracts intensely due to the release of the hormone oxytocin in your body.

To be able to fully open the cervix your uterus must contract very hard. Your uterus is the biggest muscle in your body when you are full term.

All of these reasons cause your contractions to be painful.

Don’t Be Afraid of Birth

This blog is not written to scare anyone. Quite the contrary, the purpose of Babytalk is to educate and inform so that women and families can be empowered during this beautiful journey of pregnancy and birth!

If you feel like you are not prepared for the pain of labour and are worried that you might get scared, don’t be.

Labour is totally something you can do. Your body was made for this and you are amazingly strong! Stronger than you think.

Knowing about what contractions might feel like shouldn’t scare you. The key is to be prepared for what is coming. Knowing what the pain might feel like, in addition to being prepared will give you everything you need to face this challenge head-on.

Read about how to cope with the pain of labour right here on the blog: The Best Way to Cope With Contractions During Labour

If you are looking for online birth prep courses, check out my friend Mandy Irby, she is the best! And you can find all her amazing Birthing Boldy classes right here! 

Keep in mind that at the end of this challenge is the most rewarding moment of your life. The birth of your baby.

Without further ado, let’s dive into what labour feels like by reading some exact quotes from the women that have been through it.

Intense Pain

A few women described it as intense, awful pain and they felt as those they were being ripped apart.

“I was in more pain before I was in active labour than anything and it felt like my stomach was being ripped apart.”

“I went through back labour. With my first, it was super uncomfortable and felt like my body was going to rip apart.”

“To be honest, it was more the intensity of the pain combined with how quickly the pain came. I had no chance to recover before the next wave of cramping – stomach, abdomen, hips, uterine and bum!”

“The pain was awful, but I felt better if I moved through the contractions. My baby was OP (back of his head toward my spine), causing back labour.

Feels Like Working Out

Surprisingly, more than one woman thought it felt like an intense workout!

“The contractions felt like lifting weights to me, that burning feeling you get is what I felt. ”

“It was like a slow tightening of all your abdominal muscles working their way up your core front and back. There is a peak where you feel the most pain, then a gradual release where you can rest and prepare for the next one.”

Intense burning, kind of like a doing a sit up. “

Lots and Lots of Pressure

Almost all the women talked about the crazy amount of pressure! It does make sense when you think about a baby’s head coming out of a small opening.

“Initially, the pain was tolerable but it became unbearable when my water broke. I can’t compare the pain to anything as it was just out of this world, I remember feeling unconscious in between because I could not take the pain. I felt such pressure down there as if my whole body is ripping apart.”

“My contractions were so bad I couldn’t even walk or stand. I was also very nauseous and could barely make it to the bathroom because of the pain and intense pressure.”

“The contractions wrapped all around my abdomen, it feels like your uterus is a tube of toothpaste someone is squeezing down on, except there’s a baby in the tube and the hole isn’t big enough to pass it.”

“Once my water broke in the hospital the pressure in my butt and vagina was so intense and NEVER stopped” “It felt like someone was pushing a bowling ball through my butt and never let up on the pressure ever”

Period  Cramps

It makes sense that women equate labour to period cramps since it’s your uterus doing the work. The uterus is so much bigger once you are full term, so the pain is no doubt much much worse than your standard period cramp. But again, it’s very subjective.

“Nothing serious, some period type cramping they came and went about every 7-10 minutes. As soon as she (the midwife) walked out all hell started. Contractions were coming every 3 minutes, it was the worst pain of my life. It felt like somebody was cutting me open every time one came.

“Labour felt like period cramps that would come in waves and got stronger over time.”

“Contractions are like strong period pains that make you stop what you are doing, bend over, breath and moan to get through it.”

Sometimes the Expectation of Pain is Worse

It is good to read birth stories and understand what labour might feel like. But you should go into it without any expectations because you never really know how bad it will be.

“My contractions were pretty painful but not nearly as bad as I was expecting them to be.”

“My best advice: everyone is different and can handle pain differently. Don’t believe that you shouldn’t be able to walk or talk through contractions.”

“I think it was tougher because I was panicking a bit fearing what was to come.”

“I always expected to be screaming in pain like in the movies or stories I hear but it never happened like that for me.”

Not Always Super Painful

You’d be surprised how many women I take care of that are able to cope super well and their contractions aren’t necessarily crazy painful. It’s actually more common than you think!

“Contractions weren’t painful but it just felt like my uterus was tightening. I headed right to the hospital since I have fast labours and barely made it to the room on time before he fell out.”

“The midwife kept commenting how I was just smiling and talking during the whole labour and they had no idea when I was even having a contraction.”

Coping with Contractions

Lots of women commented on how they coped with their contractions so I thought it would be helpful to include that information.

I talk about a lot of the same things in my post about coping with labour.

I also totally recommend learning to meditate before labour.

Expectful is an awesome app that will help you prepare! Download it here (you’ll get a 14-day free trial with this link)

“I counted each breath with each contraction so in my head I was coaching myself “ok that’s 6, only 4 more breaths until this contraction is over.” In between contractions, I hummed. This pattern got me through the pain that was at a 10!”

“The contractions were a little painful, but as long as I was using the yoga ball or walking I was fine. I concentrated through each contraction and was very quiet.”

“My hips felt like they were being pulled apart, so my husband had to push them together each contraction. I did end up getting an epidural since I stalled at a 6 for 12 hours, so I didn’t feel what it was like at the end.”

“At one point I lost control of my breathing because I was nonstop crying but that only made it worse. I finally gained control again and what helped me was breathing in slowly through my nose and exhaling slowly through my mouth.

Counter pressure during contractions and swaying/rocking my hips through them helped”

“The only relief I could get before they were close enough to go to the hospital was a long bath.”

“I laboured in a tub in between fetal monitoring and was able to breathe through the contractions.”

free printable birth affirmations

What Does Pushing Feel Like?

This post covers the best way for you to deal with pain during contractions. Written by an experienced labour and delivery nurse.

Two common themes were the amount of pressure felt and the “ring of fire.” That’s when your baby’s head is crowning and everything is stretched to the max. It sounds very painful, but it only lasts a couple of minutes at the most. You can get through it!

“Pushing was hard, like being constipated, but felt much better than breathing through the contractions. The relief, omg the relief of delivering.”

“When I got to the pushing stage it hurt a bit more. Sometimes a lot. I would feel enormous pressure!!”

“I experienced the “ring of fire” that a lot of med-free moms talk about and I also experienced the complete absence of pain the second the baby was born.”

“My body pushed on its own, it was like I knew exactly what I was doing even though it was my first.”

“The hardest part was pushing her head out it honestly felt like everything down there was on fire and my back felt like it was going to break.”

“Pushing through the pressure was intense, it was painful and so exhausting.

“The pressure you feel during birth (pushing) is nothing compared to the contractions. I’d compare the pressure to a shaken bottle of soda; as soon as you open it the pressure is relieved. Since I wasn’t pushing long it was almost immediate relief once his head was out.”

I hope this post helps you guys out and gives you an idea of what labour feels like. To read some more women’s experiences, check out the birth stories right here on Babytalk!

I really believe it’s super helpful to read as many stories as you can to prep you for your own birth.

Again, don’t be afraid! Just be prepared, you’ve got this mama! Remember, the most amazing reward is at the end of this journey.

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About the Author

Hanna is passionate nurse and mama of four babies. Parenthood can be hard, but you don't have to do it alone. Hanna is here for you from pregnancy, to birth and beyond!

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