Childbirth—Must It Be So Painful?
“TWENTY hours into my difficult first labor, alone and terrified, I turned to the wall and swore that if I ever lived through ‘this,’ I would never do it again. Later, in the maternity ward, we bathrobed mothers stood around and told each other that our labor had been ‘fine.’ There just wasn’t any familiar language for the earthshaking tremendousness of what we had gone through, so we left it all unsaid.”
This is how a mother described her first delivery. Fortunately not all mothers experience it with that dread. But almost all agree: childbirth is painful. It is understandable when you consider what takes place in the body when a child is born.
Why So Painful?
Childbirth is one of the most intense and complicated processes of the human body. This is necessary to force out a living “lump,” weighing about as much as a big head of cabbage, with four limbs, safely through its mother’s narrow, sensitive delivery canal. Sometimes two or more may come out on the same occasion.
The real pain usually begins with a series of heavy muscular contractions in the womb. The baby first passes from the womb into the narrow lower end of the womb. To get farther, the “mouth” of the womb must open up to about the width of a man’s fist. This affects the dense network of sensory nerves in the lower end of the womb, causing pain. If the contractions are too weak to open up the “mouth” of the womb, the delivery is prolonged and may be very trying.
When the “mouth” has opened to its maximum, the baby is forced into the narrow vagina. The mother has to bear down intensely to force the baby through this passage and press it out through the sensitive external sexual organs. Sometimes it has to be drawn out with forceps or a suction cup.
This sounds painful, indeed. But does it really have to be that painful? Can anything be done to relieve the pain?
Most women giving birth in hospitals are nowadays treated with pain-relieving drugs. In the United States, 95 percent of all pregnant women receive some sort of drug.
“Laughing gas” has long been used as a pain reliever and still is in many places. It has a relaxing effect on the brain’s nerve center. Barbiturates, tranquilizers and analgesics are usually given to women in the early stages of labor to relax them and deaden labor pains.
In order to avoid the depressive effects of narcotics and other side effects of such drugs and to keep the mother alert and cooperative during delivery, regional anesthesia has become popular. Pain-killing drugs are injected to block the sensory nerves in the mother’s delivery canal. Sometimes general anesthetic is applied, rendering the mother unconscious.
Although many have found it helpful and perhaps necessary to use pain-killing drugs, in recent years there is an increasing resistance among the medical profession to an unrestricted use of them. A strong warning signal came in 1978. Two American specialists on infant and child development, Yvonne Brackbill at the University of Florida and Sarah Broman of the National Institutes of Health, analyzed a study involving 50,000 children who were followed from before birth to age seven. A Washington Post report on this says: “During the first year of life, babies whose mothers were given the obstetrical drugs tended to lag or be impaired in their development of the ability to sit, stand or move about. They were deficient in their ability to stop responding, such as the ability to stop crying when comforted.”
The report also says that the children’s behavior was affected at least through age seven, and the following reason is given: “Drugs given during labor and delivery cross the placenta rapidly and easily reach the fetus’ brain. . . . The newborn’s liver and kidneys, which normally break down drugs and excrete them, are not fully functioning at birth.” However, not all agree on these dangers. Some researchers say that “if drugs are chosen with care, and if the dose and timing of the drugs is carefully controlled, then the consequences for the infant are minimal in almost all cases.”
While some women prefer a more comfortable and less anxious birth by taking pain-relieving drugs, many choose to give birth without interference. They want to experience this marvelous occasion to the full. “Women have said they didn’t want to be drugged bystanders at the birth of their own babies,” one columnist comments. However, there are other pain-relieving treatments than those of drugs.
Stop Being Anxious
Research shows that it is not only physical circumstances, such as the size of the baby or the width of the delivery canal, that determine the degree of pain. The physical condition of the mother is an important consideration, but anxiety is also a major factor that is here involved. “Women, who during pregnancy have been very afraid of the birth, describe . . . their delivery as more painful than those who have looked forward to the birth with greater security,” says Dr. Nils Uddenberg, a Swedish researcher at the University of Lund, who for years has studied experiences and attitudes of pregnant women.
This has to do with the relation between anguish and pain, according to this researcher. Anguish increases pain, and both anguish and pain cause muscular tension. An anxious woman is often extremely tense during delivery. This blocks her ability to relax and recover strength between labor pains.
Therefore, to relieve a woman’s delivery pains, her anguish must be reduced. Knowledge gives security. If she gets good advance information on what is going on in her body during birth, she will accept her part and do her job more intelligently, being more relaxed and less sensitive to pain. Many maternity hospitals give such information.
The mother’s position during childbirth has also been the subject of research.
Reclining or Sitting?
Professor Roberto Caldeyro-Barcia, a Uruguayan obstetric physiologist, who has dedicated 30 years to research and the development of some of the most sophisticated technologies relating to childbirth, has found that the sitting position of older times is quicker, easier and more natural than that of reclining during birth. A report on his findings in the British newspaper The Guardian of December 24, 1979, says that he claims the reclining position restricts the blood circulation and the supply of oxygen to the fetus.
The report states: “Caldeyro-Barcia has found that with low-risk pregnancies (80 per cent of the total) the best results were obtained when women who had been told what happens during childbirth were allowed to give birth without interference—no drugs, no artificial rupturing of membranes, no reclining in bed, but moving (sitting or even walking as the mother wants), with the final stage of labour in the sitting position, and the father and the family present. Caldeyro-Barcia found that first labours were 36 per cent shorter for women during the early stages and 25 per cent shorter for all labours.”
According to Exodus 1:16 in the Bible, birthstools were used already in ancient Egypt, and they are still widely used in many parts of the earth, as in Brazil. According to one researcher, the horizontal position was imposed by a French obstetrician, François Mariceaux, in 1738, and spread quickly throughout the earth. But the results sometimes leave much to be desired.
Kerstin, a 32-year-old Swedish woman, tells about her fifth delivery: “It was extremely tough. I was in bed and got some pills. My opening labors lasted 36 hours. The final contractions went on for quite a while, but the baby didn’t move. It had got stuck in me in some awkward position. When everybody left the room for a break, I thought of gravitation and said to myself: ‘Let me do it the old-fashioned way.’ I stood up on my feet and felt how the baby fell down a bit. The personnel rushed in, and after three heavy contractions my boy was born.”
Welcome the Baby
The mother’s attitude toward the baby and the consequences of bearing it may also determine how much pain she will feel. The baby should be wanted and welcome. A pretty 19-year-old mother said: “During my whole pregnancy and delivery I felt my child was going to strip me of my career, my freedom and all fun in life.” Her delivery was agonizing. A week later she beamed in happiness and said, while kissing her baby after almost every word: “I wish I had felt this for you all the time!” How much suffering she would have spared herself!
The pain a mother feels during delivery may also be influenced by her relationship with the father of the child, her social situation, and her age. “Some of the most shocking deliveries I have observed have involved either very young mothers living under insecure circumstances and with psychological difficulties, or older women with very divided sentiments toward motherhood at their age,” observes researcher Nils Uddenberg.
This suggests that the more a mother loves her coming baby, the more she appreciates becoming a mother, and the better the relations are between her and her family, the more confidence and happiness she will feel during labor and delivery. This, in turn, may stimulate her body to produce generously of its own natural pain relievers. The following exciting discovery was announced in a UPI report some time ago: “Some women may feel relaxed and near-euphoric during childbirth because their body is producing a ‘happiness hormone,’ says a Seattle researcher. Dr. J. C. Houck, a biochemist and director of the Virginia Mason Research Center, said the hormone is beta endorphine, which was discovered in 1976. Houck said he has discovered the hormone is present in human placenta and in the pancreas.”
It is also known that happiness and other strong positive emotional experiences affect the output of hormones from the pituitary gland in the brain, such as oxytocin, which is very important for the stimulation of an effective labor.
Skill Instills Confidence
If the mother is attended by someone who is both kind and experienced, this can be of great benefit to her. “As soon as the white-robed friendly woman with the grayish hair came in and put her warm, gentle hand on my cold, sweaty forehead, I felt relaxed and at ease. I knew it was a skilled hand with many years’ experience at childbirth.” This is how a young mother felt about her midwife just before giving birth. Skill instills confidence.
Researcher Nils Uddenberg says: “To the mother giving birth the midwife is the natural source of security. She represents knowledge and experience. . . . A fine contact with the midwife is therefore extremely essential to the feeling of ease during delivery.”
It should be realized, of course, that in some places there are legal requirements that must be met before a person can serve as a midwife. Properly administered and observed, these requirements can be a protection to all concerned.—Rom. 13:1-5.
In Hospital or at Home?
Many scientists also claim that the environment has an influence on how the mother experiences her delivery. In recent years, there has been lively discussion as to whether the nursery hospital or the home is the best place for childbirth. Some claim that a natural, kind, and homelike atmosphere is very important for mother and child. Many hospitals cannot offer this, they say, and recommend home births instead. In the poorer part of the world many women have no choice—the home is the only place. In the richer part of the world there is a trend toward more home deliveries. In the United States they now represent 2 percent of all the births.
A mother said at a childbirth conference: “I had my first home birth five years ago. It was a totally different experience from the birth of my first child, which I had in a hospital. Home is home and everything is your way. The family is involved and birth is an emotional not a medical experience.”
Many argue that the hospital is the safest place. Qualified help can quickly be given when problems occur, and at times this is very important. But some claim that not all hospitals are that safe. Dr. Mendelsohn says in a book on medical care: “Pediatric wards and newborn nurseries are the most vulnerable to spreading infections. It’s a well-kept secret in hospitals that the most dangerous place in the hospital—as far as the patients are concerned—is the newborn nursery, where none of the patients have (particularly those who are denied the immunity-transference of breast-feeding) developed their immunity to germs.”
Whatever is the case as to safety—a factor that must not be neglected—experiments have shown that mothers who experience childbirth at home, or in a birthing room that simulates the home, are more relaxed and therefore feel less pain. In 1974 the French doctor Frédérick Leboyer began his outstanding experiments with so-called soft deliveries in a homelike, quiet and soft-lighted birthing room, where the baby was given to the mother directly after birth. According to a report based on 120 such births, the mothers described them as a “remarkable, wonderful, and fantastic” experience. All these mothers would like to give birth the same way again.
Having a baby is becoming more of a family affair in many places. The mother often feels at ease with her husband assisting during delivery. Some hospitals even let older children stand by in an effort to make the whole affair less dramatic and more natural. An eight-year-old girl was asked, after seeing her mother give birth to her little brother, if she would like to have a baby. “Yes,” she said unhesitatingly, but then she added: “If I didn’t decide to become a ballerina instead.”
“In birth pangs you will bring forth children,” the Creator told the first woman on earth, according to the first book of the Bible. (Gen. 3:16) It has certainly proved to be true throughout history. Due to human imperfection, childbirth is painful. But not unbearably so. If the expectant mother shares a clean, loving relationship with her husband and family, cultivates right feelings toward her coming baby, learns to cooperate with her own body, receives skilled and kind assistance before and during the delivery, is allowed to give birth in a quiet, happy atmosphere, and, above all, puts her trust in the marvelous Creator of life, then she is well equipped to give birth with the least pain that is now possible.
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