I am a midwife, childbirth educator, lecturer, doula, and natural mother of eight children. This is not a medical reference; I do not proclaim to give medical advice. Anything stated here is from personal experience, research, study, and opinion. Each woman has the responsibility to do her own research, consult with her own medical team, and make her own decisions about pregnancy and birth.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Birth is not without pain!

Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim

Most pregnancies start off with excitement and joy at the realization that there is a new life growing inside.  As the months progress, the tummy expands and baby's kicks and movements become noticeable.  Excitement and wonder build along with the growth and movements.  Fantasy fills the heart as dreams about "how our child will be" and "how our life will change" consume our thoughts.  We're full of questions:  "Is it a boy or a girl?"  " What will he/she look like?" Etc.

Then comes the looming questions:  "What will the birth be like?"  "Will I be able to handle the pain?"  "Is it really all that bad?"  "What can I do to get through it?"  

I hope you enjoy reading this article.  Please let me know if have an idea for an article. Now on to the article...Birth is not without pain!...

There comes a point in every pregnancy where the expectant mother realizes that there is a painful, compromising event in her future.  Stories passed down through the ages portray this as such a painfully horrendous event that some women actually opt for major abdominal surgery just to avoid it!

Every woman comes to the realization that this baby has to come out!  By nature or by knife, it's going to hurt!  Not only that, but it is an event that knows no modesty.  It's going to be one of the most vulnerable moments in her life!

Many women decide they will just take the epidural and assume everything will be painless.  Others are so fearful of the pain or loss of modesty that they choose to be unconscious for it.  A rare few take the time to get educated about birth and find out the best ways to cope, naturally, without drugs or pain relief of any kind.

There are several risks to mother, baby, and the labor that are associated with the epidural.  You should be well aware of these before you put your trust in this method of pain relief.  It's also important to note that NO drug has been proven safe for the unborn baby (this includes the drugs used in epidurals).  It is proven that any drug administered to the mother reaches the baby within about sixty seconds of administration!

You should also know that the epidural is often administered after a substantial amount of labor has already passed.  Woman who assumed the epidural would take care of everything are left to suffer with no other options while waiting for the anesthesiologist.  Many women report still suffering a great amount of pain before, during, and after the epidural administration (so much for "painless" birth!).  The administration itself can be painful (ELECTIVE needle in my spine?  NOT FOR ME!).  The increased medical interventions and injuries that become more likely with epidural (perineum tears or cuts, forceps or vacuum delivery, etc.) often increase postpartum pain and necessitate healing.

Below is a partial list of some of the maternal risks of epidural.  I've divided them into three categories:

Minor Maternal Risks
  • itching
  • nausea and vomiting
  • incomplete or nonexistent pain relief (that's right, it may not even work!)
 Maternal Risks That Increase Liklihood of Further Medical Interventions
  • blood pressure drop
  • maternal fever
  • inability to move freely on your own
  • convulsions
  • respiratory paralysis (this happened to my niece, I need to get her birth story!)
  • cardiac arrest (could cause death)
  • allergic shock (could be minor or major)
 Maternal Risks That Effect Her Postpartum or Lifelong
  • postpartum bladder dysfunction
  • spinal headache
  • postpartum backache
  • postpartum loss of sexual feeling and function
  • nerve injury
  • epidural abscess
  • maternal death
Below is a partial list of some of the effects of epidural on the labor:
  • Prolonged First Stage
  • Increase of malpresentation of baby's head
  • Increased need for Pitocin augmentation (drug to strengthen contractions)
  • Prolonged Second Stage
  • Decrease in the ability to push effectively
  • Increased likelihood of forceps or vacuum extraction delivery
  • Increased likelihood of needing an episiotomy
  • Increase in cesarean section
Below is a partial list of some of the effects of epidural on the baby:
  • Fetal distress (abnormal fetal heart rate) 
  • Various allergic reactions
  • Marked drowsiness at birth
  • Poor sucking reflex, difficulty establishing nursing
  • Poor muscle strength and tone in the first hours
  • Missed opportunity to immediately bond
  • Exposure to epidural narcotic linked to increased susceptibility of drug addiction in later life
You can never really be sure which of the side effects listed above will affect you or your baby and to what degree.  There is no guarantee that the mother or her unborn baby won't have an allergic reaction to the drugs.  There are numerous stories of "epidural gone wrong" (Google it for yourself).  Even if the epidural is administered early and little to no pain is felt during the labor and birth, there will certainly be more pain postpartum from the increased medical interventions that usually go along with epidural births that cause a lot more pain than the typical "natural mom" feels.  

I won't spend time examining general anesthesia as it should be obvious that the risks and side effects would be even greater than an epidural.   Similarly, it should be obvious that cesarean section will come with increased risks and postpartum pain when there is major abdominal surgery involved.  At least I hope these points are "obvious!"  

I can tell you, from personal experience, that mom's who make the choice to go "natural" and take the time to learn and prepare really don't have much pain (if any) in the postpartum period.  You are not getting out of pregnancy without some pain, be it labor or postpartum or both.  Do you really want to move the pain from the labor to the postpartum period?  Personally, I'd rather cope naturally with labor and feel great postpartum so I can enjoy my baby, instead of "healing" and suffering from the effects of drugs and interventions while trying to keep up with the demands of my newborn!

"Natural moms" are sometimes called "martyrs."  It is so sad to me that choosing to trust the way Allah created our bodies by turning away from drugs is considered "abandoning medical progress."  Frankly, I see no progress in altering the natural process which undoubtedly causes as much (if not more) pain and complications as it solves!

Just to clarify, I'm not advocating unassisted nor home births.  Even though I enjoyed my unassisted-home birth, I am NOT against hospital births.  Women simply need to be educated in the birthing process so that they learn to work with their bodies and can cope and birth naturally.  Doctors need to sit patiently and not rush to intervene when things are normal.  Parents need to be good birth consumers and not become complacent to doctor or hospital protocol. 

I advocate asking questions, getting informed, and making choices to avoid drugs and medical interventions except when absolutely necessary.  This does not mean you have to stay out of the hospital.  It does mean that you have to have good communication with your birth professionals and you have to make your voice heard.  It's often exhausting to advocate for your right to a natural birth.  But this is YOUR birth and YOUR baby.  No one but you will live with the consequences of your choices.  You will remember this experience, good or bad, for the rest of your life.  Don't take it lightly!

No birth will be without pain.  Of course some births are truly horrible...but did they really have to be?  If you learn how to cope and work with your body, it can be enjoyable and it's really not that bad.  Do you honestly think I'd have eight children if it was horrible?  You have nine months warning...take the time to get educated and prepare your body.  Learn to work with your labor.  It really is worth it!


  1. So many memories are coming back to me after reading this article. They administered pain meds (don't recall the name) but I was still in pain! The nurse told me that I would be in a lot more pain without the meds. I requested an epidural but the midwife said it was too late. I then started thinking that I wanted a C-section and would deal with THAT pain later just as long as I didn't have to deal with the pain of contractions astaghfirAllah. Nobody encouraged me to drink water and when the doctor checked my tongue, she noticed it was white and asked the nurse if I had water. They inserted a catheter and that made me feel as if I couldn't get up and walk. The nurse tried to massage my back but that hurt! In short, nobody really assisted me in dealing with the pain naturally and helping me physically to ensure I wouldn't tense up from the pain and stop dilating. Unfortunately it took gas and air to relax me enough to fall asleep but I still wasn't dilated enough. And you know the rest of the story!

  2. Asalam Alaikum,

    Thank you, Tara, for taking the time to read and to comment. Also thank you for confirming what I've written with your own account!

    Best regards,

    -Aisha, Natural Mom