Giving birth: Do women really need painkillers to start?

Giving birth: Do women really need painkillers to start?

Naturally, all human mothers experience pain when giving birth, even if the feelings are not the same. Feeling baby coming while controlling pain is a dream for all pregnant women, but also a major concern for health professionals.

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Some pregnant women strongly refuse to give birth in pain. Epidural anesthesia, improved in the 1970s and 1980s, was an effective relief that completely changed the traditional view of childbirth.

But it is quite possible to progress during labor or delivery without taking any painkillers, which can have significant side effects as well. Other techniques can help to relax and better support the intensity of contractions.

Over the past centuries, women have given birth without epidurals. Great-grand mothers, grandmothers, and even mothers, all of these women have typically given birth without painkillers. So, is it possible to go back to the old methods?

what do contractions feel like?

Giving birth is like experiencing every possible feeling and emotion. Each woman’s feeling is different and may vary from pregnancy to pregnancy. For some women, contractions are similar to extreme menstrual cramps.

They usually feel like pressure in the pelvis along with tightening in the lower abdomen that causes discomfort, and may or may not include a dull ache across the lower back.

How did women originally give birth In The Past?

In pre-modern times, women had a few options to ease the pain of childbirth. It depends on where they lived, but in short, they were naked, free to move, and would give birth mostly outside.

Hanging on a branch of a tree to provide support and make birth easier. Just like what they traditionally did in this tribe about a century ago:

Scène D’accouchement chez Les Indiens de l’Orénoque, aux XIX siècle, (Source Witkowski)

Or if so close to a clean water source (river, sea, lake…), certain tribes would simply ease the pain by immersing in the water, and eventually have a water birth.

With time and development of society, childbirth began to change in response to living conditions and social needs; women living in cities could no longer hang on the trees or fall naked into the sea.

Then childbirth seats began to be designed, this shows childbirth in ancient Rome:

Childbirth in the Roman Empire: the birthing seat and midwives.

And later, the childbirth seats became rigid chairs varying between three or four feet. Both models support the mother’s lower body and allow birth assistants to massage or support her during labor.

Naissance en Alsace-Musée alsacien de Strasbourg (2)
Ji-Elle [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Looks comfy right? The position of the birthing chairs allow muscles used during childbirth to work effectively. These include vaginal, abdominal, back, leg, and arm muscles.

The birthing chairs became out of use while male doctors dominated the delivery room. Physicians started using delivery beds so that women could lie down, most often flat on their backs, feet in the air.

The position was absolutely unnatural, no animal lies on its back feet up to give birth, and there are many reasons for that, the first is simply being against gravity.

Another reason is that, in this position, the hips and pelvis do not open as widely, and babies get stuck while women overheat, barely breathe, fighting the gravity.

In modern times, what are the best options for giving birth?

Today, medicine has slowly turned all the harm that had been done previously, and research has shown that natural positions have better results than medical ones. So now we have delivery rooms that look like this:

You can suspend yourself and benefit from gravity, you can have seats with the ability to move freely, and choose the position that suits you best unless there is a medical reason not to do so.

Various birth options are currently available. You can choose to deliver at the hospital, in a birthing center, or even at home, depending on your preferences and your health status along with that of your baby.

Since the 1980s, birthing chairs have been making a comeback in the modern medicine of childbirth. Studies have shown that the birthing chair speeds the delivery time, increases comfort, and allows gravity, by its vertical position, which promotes the expulsion of the baby.

The modern birthing chair is now available in various materials, including PVC inflatable structures such as the CUB support, designed to help women perform several upright positions, like squatting, all fours, kneeling, and sitting.

More and more birth centers and hospitals offer water births. A doctor, midwife, or nurse-midwife will help you through it.

Science Photo Library – IAN HOOTON – From Getty Images.

And guess what? Water seems to reduce stress-related hormones induced by labor pain, allowing the mother’s body to produce endorphins that act as natural painkillers.

Most women who have used warm water baths report less pain, a greater sense of relaxation and pain control, but also fewer complications with their breast-feeding or their mental health postpartum.

And even with painkillers, it has been observed that an estimated 30 to 40% of expecting mothers no longer seem to need epidurals. Different situations explain this choice:

  • A natural childbirth preference, without epidurals.
  • There is not enough time: labor is moving too fast and the baby is coming soon.
  • Cervical dilation less than 4 cm at the time of administration.
  • Epidurals are contraindicated.
  • Epidural didn’t work.

Well, maybe you could give birth without painkillers? But if you wish giving birth painlessly, your choice will certainly be considered. Discuss it with your healthcare professionals for advice on anesthesia methods to figure out which one is best for you.

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