New research: Labour pain may be mind over matter

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New research into labour pain suggests that it may be a case of mind over matter | Mum's Grapevine

Australian researchers say the way women think about labour pain may help them have a more positive experience during birth.

La Trobe University researchers interviewed new Melbourne mums as part of the study, to understand why women have such different experiences of labour pain.

“Labour pain is very different to other pains because it arises during a natural process in which a woman’s body is doing what it should be doing, rather than by something going wrong,” explained labour pain expert Dr Whitburn from La Trobe’s School of Life Sciences.

“There’s no denying labour contractions are extremely intense. The pain is very good at capturing the labouring woman’s attention and motivating her to seek safety and care during birth. But my research shows that not everybody experiences this pain in the same way”.

Labour pain is ‘purposeful pain’

Thinking positively during labour may help women deal with the pain, new research suggests

What Dr Whitburn discovered is that if a woman is able to think of her labour pain as ‘purposeful pain’ and she’s able to remain ‘present and focused’ during labour, she had a more positive experience. But women who didn’t make the link between the pain and its role in labour are more likely to feel ‘distressed or overwhelmed’ by the pain, or use medical interventions.

“Women who labour with the mindset that there is a purpose to their pain appear able to make pain part of the experience. They are less likely to need interventions such as an epidural or c-section,” Dr Whitburn said. “The messages women receive about labour pain before labour, and the way they are supported during labour, can influence how they perceive the pain and their capacity to cope with it.

“It seems that one key element to remaining focused and resilient during labour is who is caring for you – having a midwife or support person who you know and trust, and who is sending positive messages about your body and your progress can boost a woman’s sense of ability to cope with the pain,” she said.

Midwife helping mum during labour

Dr Whitburn does point out that there’s a clear distinction between ‘normal’ labour pain and ‘abnormal’ pain linked to a complication that may need medical intervention, regardless of a mum’s mindset. She hopes her findings will help ‘re-frame’ the discussion around labour pain and empower women.

“Unfortunately, the way labour is portrayed and communicated can suggest to women that they are not capable of coping. Instead of supporting women to work with their bodies during labour, our current birth culture undermines them. By re-framing the way we think and talk about that pain, we may be able to reduce medical interventions and improve women’s experience,” she said.

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