Understanding P.A.I.N

Pain. No one likes it and it is sure to be a subject that is at the forefront of every pregnant woman’s mind. I like to use the acronym PAIN when I talk about the discomfort of labor - purposeful, anticipated, intermittent and normal. Let’s take a look at these four pieces.

Purposeful. First off, the discomfort of labor is purposeful. When you have a broken leg the purpose of its pain is to alert you that something is wrong and that you need to take care of it. Labor discomfort, on the other hand, alerts you that you are about to have a baby (can you imagine what would happen if labor was sensationless and babies just fell out?). It can also advise you of potential problems in your labor. For example, if you experience a great deal of back pain during your labor your body may be telling you that baby is not in the best position for birth. These sensations will automatically guide you to assume positions that may help baby reposition. Or if you experience a sudden, extreme and unrelenting contraction, you may be experiencing a uterine rupture. In both these scenarios, the discomfort guides a laboring woman and alerts her and her care providers to these complications.

Anticipated. The unfortunate truth is that everyone knows labor is uncomfortable - no huge surprise there. The good news, however, is that because you know it is uncomfortable,  you also know that you need to prepare and learn about ways to cope with the sensations of labor.

Intermittent. Let’s go back to the broken leg analogy. A broken leg hurts constantly. There is no break from the pain, which makes it intolerable. Labor, however, is designed to give you breaks. The contractions come and go, ebb and flow. If labor was one, unrelenting contraction, everyone would need pain medication as soon as labor started. But it’s not! This is what makes the discomfort of labor tolerable if you want to go without medication.

Normal. The medical definition of normal is “of natural occurrence or, free from any infection or other form of disease or malformation.” Women have been giving birth since the beginning of time, and it is nothing new. It is a life event that many people will experience at some point and happens everyday to hundreds of women. Birth and the sensations surrounding it are about as normal as life gets.

Remember that as you prepare for birth, PAIN is a great way to think of the discomfort in labor. It is purposeful, guiding your movements and alerting you to potential problems. It is anticipated, which helps motivate you to prepare, but it is also intermittent, providing the ebb and flow necessary for a good labor pattern. Finally, it is normal and nothing to be afraid of.  Keeping this acronym in mind will help you feel empowered to embrace your birth and move through the discomfort without fear.