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Pain During Childbirth

One of the biggest things I hear from moms is a fear pain during childbirth. The book Mindful Birthing by Nancy Bardacke breaks down the cycle of contractions and associated pain perfectly. Let’s go over the ebb and flow of these waves now.

5-1-1: Active Labor

When contractions are at a 5-1-1(5 minutes apart, lasting 1 minute, in this pattern for 1 hour), this is the considered Active Labor.

During this time, waves of contractions arise and pass about every 5 minutes – lasting for about 60 seconds. This means that in one hour of the first stage of labor, there will be only about 12 minutes of intermittent pain. Intermittent is the key word here - the pain is not constant, but instead flows in and out. Just like a wave in the ocean, contractions begin to build in intensity, reach their crest, and then break and begin to dissipate.

At that crest, or peak point, is the maximum amount of pain – lasting only about 3-5 seconds – the same length of time as one breath (inhale and exhale). Therefore, in one hour of active labor, there are only 12 breaths (60 seconds) of maximum pain.


Furthermore, as labor progresses into transition phase, contractions will get stronger and closer together – about 2-3 minutes apart, and last about an hour. During the most intense part of labor, you will have onlyabout 20-30 minutes of intermittent pain.

"Endorphins Make You Happy"

Even more, during this entire time, the body is releasing endorphins – hormones that are chemically similar to morphine, Demerol, and heroin - giving you a boost of energy, endurance, and pain relief. At the crest of a contraction or peak point of pain, comes the biggest surge of oxytocin and endorphins, counteracting the intense physical discomfort.


When we stop to look at birth as "one wave at a time," instead of the event as a whole, doesn't a natural labor and delivery seem even more possible? Doesn't it make sense that many women have and continue to birth their babies in this way?

Yes, I think so too.

Stick around - the next blog post will cover how to foster a strong mind-body connection!

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