What does unmedicated birth feel like?

Everyone experiences labor differently, with pain ranging from mild to severe.

It’ll start with waves of contractions. Some people describe the feeling as being like intense period cramps, others say it feels like a tightening or pounding feeling in your uterus or across your belly, others describe the feeling as being like very intense muscle cramps, while still other people describe contractions as being like the sort of wrenching intestinal cramps or gas pains that you might have a stomach virus. Sometimes you can even see these contractions across your belly as the uterus tightens. Some people might also have cramping, pressure, or pain that affects the lower back (called “back labor”), depending on how a baby is positioned, and this can be particularly intense. And some people feel these feelings of cramping, pressure, tightness, or pain in localized areas – the uterus, belly, torso, or back – and others feel it throughout their body. It’s very different for everyone and different with every pregnancy.

Regardless of how it feels for you, these contractions will grow in intensity as you move through labor, and many people find that as things intensify they prefer to move their bodies around in particular ways to try and find some relief – sitting on an exercise ball, getting on all fours, laboring in a tub if possible – or ask their care providers for help with relief. Throughout, some people report that they feel in control and empowered; others feel disconnected, like their bodies take control and do what needs to be done; and some feel a mix of in charge and out-of-body.

When it eventually comes time to push, many people say that they feel a great pressure in the rectal area, as if they need to have a bowel movement. For many people the act of bearing down and pushing also feels like having an intense bowel movement. (In fact, it’s pretty common to actually have a bowel movement during labor, as you use the same pelvic floor muscles to deliver vaginally.) Pushing itself can be extremely tiring physically, like an incredibly physically demanding workout requiring intense focus. And despite the great deal of discomfort many people experience before getting ready to push, often the pushing can feel like it brings some relief. 

Once your baby’s head starts to emerge, or crown, the physical sensation may feel intense in a new way. The crowning can feel like burning, stabbing, stretching, tearing, or intense pressure on your groin area, vagina, and rectum as your baby gets ready to make their way out into the world. 

Once Baby is finally delivered, with a great rush, you’ll likely feel a strong sense of relief and even euphoria – brought on by a big release of the calming hormone oxytocin and also because your baby is finally here and you’re mostly done pushing. (You may, however, still need to push out the placenta. For most people, the uterus will continue to contract for some time to help things along, but it’s important that all of the placenta comes out after birth. Following this, you may need to get some stitches down below if you experienced any tearing as your baby was born.) This relief and euphoria will likely last about an hour before beginning to fade, which is when you’ll really start to feel all that your body’s been through. At this point, you’ll have been through a lot. Soreness and pain throughout your body – most notably in your groin, vagina, rectum, and your uterus – is common, as is bleeding from your vagina.

One thing’s certain: you’ll be exhausted by the end, but it’ll all be worthwhile once Baby arrives.

Read more
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Signs of labor: Know what to expect.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, 7/18/2013. Web.
  • Shannon K. Laughlin-Tommaso. “Does back labor really happen?” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, 3/14/2015. Web.
  • “Hormones Driving Labor and Birth.” Childbirth Connection. Childbirth Connection, 4/11/2011. Web.

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