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Endorphins for Childbirth Pain

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Dear Dr. Laura,
I love the Pregnancy and Birth section of your website. So soothing, and yet very helpful in figuring out how to look ahead to stay on a healthy path. I wanted to say that you clearly have a bias toward natural childbirth, as do I, but you don't really address the fear many women have about the pain involved. What I tell my friends is that when you feel empowered and excited, your endorphins handle the pain for you -- just as nature intended!
-- Liz


Dear Liz,

What a great way to express it! It is true that every labor is different, but it's also true that childbirth triggers endorphins, which alleviate pain naturally. Epidurals, on the other hand, significantly slow down labor, resulting in a longer second stage. Therefore, they often trigger other interventions. 1 in 4 women receiving an epidural experiences complications. There is a 4x greater risk of forceps or vacuum delivery, and a 2x greater risk of c-section. Epidurals also require use of IV to prevent falling blood pressure, so you can't walk around -- and walking is what got me through, both times, and made the births go very fast.

What most women don't know is that a third of women receiving an epidural experience severe back pain after the birth, for several days to several weeks. 20% report severe back pain a year later.

But you're right -- knowing that epidurals are unhealthy for mother and child doesn't address the fear about childbirth. And sometimes childbirth does hurt. I do remember thinking "Oh, my, how did I think I could deliver a baby without drugs?" But then it turned out I was almost fully dilated and it was immediately time to push. Only that last part was actually hard, in my case. And the pushing, for me, was a relief. So my personal experience with my two births was that endorphins did do the job, and while I felt the pressure of the baby moving through me, I didn't actually feel much pain.

Of course, every birth is different. But reading birth stories can be very reassuring, because so many of them echo your point about that endorphins are a natural, healthy painkiller. So I always recommend that pregnant women read birth stories from other women. (Spiritual Midwifery, by Ida May Gaskin, is a classic, with a breadth of wonderful stories.)

Thanks for writing. I love your point. Please pass on the url to other parents you think will like it!
Dr. Laura

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