Why is human birthing labor so painful?

I don’t know if I’m going to make much sense here,so bear with me…why is human labor so painful? I really can’t understand the concept,I mean ya the uterus contracts,but why does it hurt?I mean when you flex your muscles isn’t that kinda like the same thing?

Also,having watched lots of animal documentaries,it just seems like animals such as giraffs,zebras,horses etc,just drop the damn baby out without even flinching,I have witnessed several cats giving birth and I have never seen them wince,pant, yowel or really give any kind of sign that they were in pain…so why is it that humans wail in pain and animals really just can basically lie through it without really even flinching?

A complete an utter WAG (with no cite whatsoever), but could it be evolution? I’d guess our bodies were probably better at berthing when we were close to the primate side.

A woman’s tolerance to pain varies. If your experience in human birthing comes from movies or TV, you are seeing the exaggerated version hyped for the audience.

Many women deliver their children naturally with no drugs. My wife bore both our children with some discomfort, but none of the wailing and cursing typical of a Hollywood production.

I have heard that it has to do with the propotionately large human brains, that our heads have grown too big for our pelvises to be comfortably handle.

TMI warning.

Don’t be too sure it’s easy for animals. I’ve seen a cow in labor for 24 hours, clearly suffering and exhausted (the calf finally came through OK). That one sticks in the memory, because my cousin had their daughters there to see the miracle of birth, and I think it was counterproductive.

Veterinarians will tell you of animals who have various problems birthing, including death.

Right, you know the way that your stomach hurts after a lot of sit-ups?
Imagine doing sit-ups for several hours straight.
Muscles hurt when they are used a lot.

Babies have big heads. Some babies are so big that they cannot fit throught their mother’s pelvic outlet, it’s known as CPD, and is a common reason for performing a C-section. In the bad old days and the third world today it’s a cause of prolonged labour and a major cause of mortality for both mother and child.

So, long labour, plus big head vs small pelvis issues equals painful.

It’s because we’re trained to.
A modern woman who sees nothing but pain and angish in media portayals of birth. I think it goes back to the Victorian era, when pregnancy was almost a matter of shame and nobody mentioned it. A woman was expected to sit around and do nothing while in a ‘delicate condition’ and was expected to bear ‘in sorrow’ just like the Bible says.
Once it was realized that that idea sucked, women had lost some of the lore that helped them bear easier and so were less able to deal with birth. They then depended on the burgeoning medical field, which strapped them down to a table so as to be better able to manage the birth. This hurts more. Women demanded release from pain, and then started the practice of knocking them out for the delivery. After this was finally gotten over, women had lost even more of the knowledge of how to manage a birth and tried all sorts of methods to relieve the pain. It has only recently been thought of that perhaps the best way to manage pain is to prevent its cause in the first place.
If you have a muscle that is almost never used, and then you get the body pumped full of adrenaline and start using is HARD all the sudden, of course it’s going to hurt!
Many cultures teach pelvic exercises from early childhood. Aside from traditional middle-eastern dance (the ancestor of bellydance) there are several tribes in South America that have exercises, plus most Polynesians used to have exercises for both sexes. West African dance is all about the pelvic rock. These build up the pelvic floor muscles naturally. Pelvic floor muscles help support the growing baby and their strength helps reduce tearing.
The ‘belly roll’ that you see in bellydancers is EXACTLY the same motion that the body goes through when pushing the baby out.
By doing this motion, you are exercising muscles that will be used for later delivery. This is not to say that you actually control and aid the process consciously. What you learn is how to release conscious control, so the body can do what it needs to without interference.
When the mother is agitated, there is more blood in the uterus, giving you a higher chance of hemmorhage. Also, when you’re agitated, muscles tense. Tense, infrequently used muscles HURT. Hurting causes pain and fear, which cause more tensing. It’s a vicious cycle, and one that can be almost eliminated by education. I am thankful I had that education for my births. With the first one, my entire labor for my 10+ pound baby lasted eight hours, and with the second one, I didn’t push at all- I got my brain out of the way and let my body take over and out he popped. No tearing in either case and recovery time abuot a week.
HennaDancer

I seem to recall it having something to so with the gigantic brain humans have. Even in a newborn, the brain is realtively large, and the large head containing it is the biggest part of the body to have to come down through the birth canal (in a normal birth, the baby’s shoulders “squeeze” together to make them narrower, and so they are not the largest part).

The human brain evidently developed much faster than the pelvis did, leading to a small pelvis bone (and therefore small “route”) relative to a large head needing to be delivered. I also seem to recall that in order to be bipedal, the pelvis has to be narrower for balance and functionality reasons. I suppose the current human form is a balance between large head and being able to walk! Although there are deaths and injuries during natural childbirth (although far less with modern medicine), I suppose even with the level of pain, it isn’t enough to evolutionarily (?) change things. Or perhaps we simply need more time to get to a less painful form :slight_smile:

I’ve read this too. I’ve also read that humans are unlike a lot of other mammals in that our babies are pretty much completely helpless at birth, and require constant care for many months (years?) before they can survive adequately. On the other hand, a colt is ready to go within a day or two of birth, and is running around and eating and generally enjoying life. Our big heads (combined with the small pelvis thing) mean that Mom has gotta that baby OUT before it’s really fully baked, or else it’ll be stuck. :slight_smile:

If you look at a cross-section diagram of a pregnant woman, you will see that the fetus is at a right angle to the birth canal. That is bound to make the birthing process more difficult. Quadrupeds don’t have this problem; it results from humans having fully upright posture. Of course, as pointed out above, the main problem with human childbirth is the baby’s enormous head.

Have you seen a birth canal? It’s quite tight, or the intercourse would be kinda free of friction, much to the male’s chagrin.

So it’s tight. The labor pains hurt…yes…but it’s when that kid presses on your spine and starts to head on through that is the killer!! The ‘hard’ labour!

Of course women have their own experiences. It’s the ‘larger’ women I find that don’t find it hurt as much…especially taller ones. I’m short and quite small…and birthing hurt like nothing you can imagine!!

Unless you’ve gone through it, I feel noone has any business saying it’s conditioning!!!:rolleyes:

Try passing kidney stones…that may compare a bit. Or try pushing a bowling ball through your penis…streeeetch!!! While you being kicked in the balls. Tell me that wouldn’t hurt!! :dubious:

Well, you see, there was this snake…

never mind.

like everyone has said, the big brain thing does not help, and i’d also imagine that medical science being able to help deliveries where otherwise the mom and baby would die (selecting them out of the population) keeps people breeding who are not particulary well adapted for it. of course, that’s my own WAG.

Depending on the animal, human babies are proportionally larger than an animal that gives birth to multiple offspring. Additionally, I always thought the shoulders were just about as painful as the head.

lastly, “when you fles y our muscles it’s like the uterus contracting” well sure if a raindrop is like a hurricane. It isn’t quite the same. Third stage labor is intense and pretty much takes over all of a woman’s senses. I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t even talk, just breath and push. I think you would have to either have one or at least watch to understand. It isn’t just a matter of laying down and having it fall out. I have seen puppies and kittens born and the mothers don’t seem to actively push, just the uterine contractions. With humans, MOm actually participates. My husband said he thought it was amazing that every soingle muscle in my entire body would flex during contractions. It’s pretty intense.

I have to chime in that my pain during childbirth had nothing to do with being “trained” by the media. It frigging hurt!

Breath control kept me on top of the early labor pains, but nothing short of an epidural was going to get me through the worst of it.

I know several women who have had their children with natural childbirth (drug-free), primal scream, etc. I could not.

Men, try to imagine shitting a bowling ball and you’re just about there. Seriously, it felt like my uterous was being ripped asunder, and that was only about 6 hours into a 24 hour process (I didn’t dilate the first time)!

But hey, as with everything else, YMMV.

Oh, and on topic- big head.

To expand on the pelvis side of things (to continue with the big-head argument) our pelvis is different than other mammals’ because we walk upright. It has to be a certain size/shape/structure to do what it has to do. That makes it not-so-compatible with the huge human head.

The Anthropologist Meredith Smalls has some interesting writing on this, in Our Babies, Ourselves.

Eosine said "
Unless you’ve gone through it, I feel noone has any business saying it’s conditioning!!! "

I quite agree. I have gone through it- twice. Of course it will be different for every woman, especially if you have an androsomething (word that means ‘like a guy’) pelvis. I’m not saying it’s ever not painful. Mine were painful. It didn’t have me screaming and ripping off scrotums, partially because I was relaxed, prepared, and had toned the relevant bits.

Yes, it does take all your attention. However, in my case, the second baby did just fall out. Rather, he came out without my having to push at all. I let go and my body did all the work. It almost happened with my first baby, too. They kept telling me to push and I kept saying No. I pushed when I was ready and ONLY then and I think it took less than ten pushes total. It was only 45 minutes.

I think that there is also some truth in saying doctors are saving women who really aren’t built to breed. Narrow-hipped women would just die until recently and the genes wouldn’t get passed along. You’ve got to expect pain if you do something your body isn’t built for. Some people enjoy running marathons. I can’t imagine that pain.

I forgot to mention that perception of pain is also an important factor. The expletive deleted hospital would not let me eat or drink during labor. Because I was being induced before I was really ready, it took about 24 hours. I dealt with it fine for the first 12 and spent much of the next whimpering because I had no resources left and yet my body was still making extreme demands.
HennaDancer

Yeah but it I think it depends more on each individual birth and the size of the baby than education. I had all three natural and the first took longer even though he was smaller and I think fear of the unknown did have something to do with it.

The last weighed 9 pounds and if I waited for her to fall out I would still be waiting.

I’ve always been in excellent physical condition and did all the prenatal training. I was ready menatally and physically and knew what to expect. I am not narrow hipped or intolerant of pain but some births are easy and some just aren’t. It isn’t just different depending on the woman, her education, her health or her healthcare workers. I think all of that is a factor but a part is just different from child to child. My youngest came into the world in violent soul shattering contractions and has pretty much taken life the same way ever since. ;-} With her I went from 0 to mach 1 on the first contraction. She was born about an hour later. (Whew - don’t try this at home kids)

The level of pain depends on the individual’s tolerance, I would say. Early labor for me was excruciating, like I was being torn in two, I didn’t scream but I did cry and beg for it to be over. The worst is when the shoulders come out, I cannot even begin to describe how much that hurt. As to the why, I think it is the process of pushing something big out of a smaller hole…??
Margo

[hijack]
Just curious, wouldn’t it be easier if the woman stood up (or leant against something whilst standing) during birth, letting gravity give a helping hand? Or have I missed someting?
[/hijack]

Actually I have heard of that but never tried it. I did squat for a little while with my first and that seemed to relieve a lot of pressure on my back.