January 2020
In this issue: Working with pain
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Working with Pain

Imagine for a moment that you decide to run a marathon. Yep, that’s right, a MARATHON. You know it won’t be easy, but you also know that with proper training and mental preparation you can DO THIS! And when you finally cross that finish line, your chest will fill with pride and you will feel like you can do anything—after you’ve caught your breath, that is. 

You may be thinking “What does this have to do with being pregnant?” Well, giving birth will be your very own marathon. Both are intense (some may say painful). Both benefit from training and mental focus. And, just like completing a marathon, the journey to parenthood can be empowering!

Why might you choose to work with the pain of childbirth?

We often hear that people are scared of birth—particularly the pain of birth. And yet, interviews with women who have given birth tell us that having a satisfying birth isn’t about the birth being easy or pain-free. In fact, the most important factor for having a satisfying birth (and the positive birth memories that come with it) will be how you are treated by the people who provide your care. Understanding your options, making informed choices, and having a healthcare provider who respects you and your decisions will be the greatest factors in whether you have a satisfying birth—not whether your birth was pain-free.

Many people see birth as risky and labour pain as something to be treated, but birth is a normal, physiological process. Yes, epidurals can eliminate pain most of the time and other medical procedures can even save lives when they are needed, but are these interventions needed as often as we use them? What risks are involved when we use interventions that aren’t medically necessary during labour and birth? And what benefits do we lose when we move further away from a natural birth process? This is a complex issue and we don’t yet have all the answers, but we do have some. Read more about physiologic birth at

Why is pain important in labour?

Labour pain isn’t just a pesky side-effect; it has a purpose. It acts as a signal to your body and mind by:  
  • Letting you know it’s time to find a safe place to give birth and to surround yourself with support
  • Giving you information about how your labour is progressing
  • Helping your body produce important birth hormones, including oxytocin and endorphins
  • Guiding you into positions that are best for getting your baby out
  • Prompting the release of stress hormones that help protect baby from low oxygen levels that can occur during birth
But will I suffer? 

Pain is simply an unpleasant physical sensation. Suffering is what happens when our brains turn the physical sensation into an emotional feeling of being overwhelmed, helpless or out of control. Learning strategies to help you work with pain and then practising them with a support person BEFORE labour begins can help prevent suffering. Even if you choose an epidural, your training won’t be wasted. You will likely be in labour for hours before getting an epidural and will be happy to have a few tricks up your sleeve. 

Learn more about pain vs. suffering from Penny Simkin, the world-famous childbirth educator.

How can I learn to work with pain? 

Some common (and helpful) strategies for working with pain include:  
  • Having a support person by your side throughout labour - Having a person you trust and who can provide reassurance and guidance will help your labour progress and your pain to be more manageable.        
  • Moving during contractions or changing positions between contractions - Upright positions that use gravity to your advantage can help keep labour moving. Positions that also involve forward leaning can help make you more comfortable.
  • Using different kinds of touch - Gentle touch or massage between contractions can help release endorphins, your body’s natural pain relievers. Firmer pressure (e.g., counterpressure, the double hip squeeze, acupressure) during contractions can help take your mind off the pain of the contractions.  
  • Rhythmic breathing - There is no right or wrong way to breathe in labour, but slow, deep breathing and quicker, shallower breathing are two breathing techniques that can come in handy.
To learn more about working with pain, register for our FREE online prenatal program. More information is also available in these online resources:

But what if I want an epidural?

This is YOUR birth story. It’s important that you follow the path that’s right for you. Start by talking to your healthcare provider about medical pain management options so you understand the benefits and risks to whatever you choose.

It might also be helpful to look at this pain medication preferences scale (PDF). It can help you and your support person understand your preferences and the type of support you will need on your journey.  

Once you’ve made an informed decision to go ahead with an epidural, you can still support your hormones to help keep your labour moving and for breastfeeding. Here are some simple tips that apply to everyone in labour (most even apply to someone having a caesarean birth [C-section]): 
  • Change positions often; even with an epidural
  • Have a support person with you every step of the way—feeling loved, supported and protected is important no matter how birth unfolds 
  • Create a calming environment (support person, touch if you want it, relaxation strategies, dim lighting, calm atmosphere)
  • Skin-to-skin with baby immediately after birth to help baby transition to life outside your uterus and to help with breastfeeding
Before you know it, it will be time for your very own baby marathon. We wish you a birth experience that is filled with respect for the decisions you make along the way. 

Your child's developmental milestones:

Want more stage and age-specific information? Visit our website to read about your child's development and get more activities and healthy living tips:
1st trimester | 2nd trimester | 3rd trimester | Newborn

Learn more:

  • Want to learn more about pregnancy? Public Health has a FREE Online Prenatal Program.
  • Planning to give birth at the Guelph General Hospital Family Birthing Unit? Sign up for their tour and information session offered the third Wednesday evening of each month. 
  • Enjoying this monthly e-newsletter? Subscribe to Public Health's Let's Talk Parenting e-Newsletter to get reliable, local parenting information directly to your inbox.
  • Not sure how you will pay for dental care for your children? Public Health has free dental clinics for kids ages 0 to 17.
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