23 October 2008

Why is birth painful?

I came across an interesting article in Salon suggesting that the pain of childbirth basically serves no purpose and is merely a hangover from evolution. Some anthropologists have argued that labour pain served as a means of letting women know that they should seek assistance, ultimately, as a mechanism to lower rates of infant and maternal mortality. If women received help, they were less likely to bleed to death. The strongest evidence seems to be that all cultures have traditional birth attendants which suggests that assistance during birth was considered to be critical.

The question remains, it seems, as to whether labour pain has lived out its usefulness for women. As the author of the article suggests, this theory is problematic for natural childbirth advocates because this evolutionary perspective implicitly argues that birth is dangerous and not 'natural'.

I'm not sure I agree with this argument in general. After all, babies heads have become substantially larger over time and a woman's pelvis has pretty much stayed the same. In a nutshell, it seems pretty clear to me why giving birth would hurt.

Source: http://open.salon.com/content.php?cid=31854


AvoidTheRedShoes said...

When you go through natural childbirth, it's not like the same pain throughout. It changes, so you respond with your breathing and movement and the pain tells your body how to behave in order to help move your baby down the birth canal. That's one of the reasons the medical model of birth can increase a woman's pain and slow her progress. They often don't allow the woman to respond to her pain appropriately because of their standard procedures. I admit that contractions are more painful when alone. When my husband left my side to answer the door for the midwife I was just thinking "come back come back" and as soon as I had company and a husband to lean on I felt much better. I don't think it had anything to do with danger. I just think humans are social creatures and enjoy the company of loved ones and people they trust.

Anonymous said...

So you'll be retracting all your nasty backhanders about women who get epidurals then will you?

Birth is per se painful and the pain serves no purpose, we now have proof that epidurals don't cause complications at higher rates.

So let's all get smart and get that needle.

I for one think that for all the patronising "oh you're scared of the pain dear" comments from natural birth nazis they in fact are scared of a single needle. Wimps.

AvoidTheRedShoes said...

"Natural Birth Nazis" as you call them probably make a lot of incorrect assumptions about people who choose medication, but all of those "Just take the drugs" people don't understand what it means to some women to experience every moment of their child's birth, pain and all, with as much clarity as possible. That's very important to some women. I'd don't think "Let's all get smart and get that needle" is an appropriate thing to say.

Cath @ BumpBaby said...

Sheesh! Fiery subject! Having done both - first bubby with an epidural and second "natural" I can see the pros and cons for both sides... for me, chronic back pain from bulging discs made a natural birth for number one extraordinarily painful - not the contractions, but the pain in my back... the epidural was a welcome relief and I felt capable of being able to "do something" rather than being overwhelmed by the pain and feeling like I wasn't getting anywhere at all. With the second, it was so quick that I didn't have time for the epi (I asked!) and whilst my back was agony and at many times througout i thought I wasn't going to get through it, I did. Ask me what I'd do for number three and I couldn't tell you - the pain relief made it so much easier to cope with, but I felt like my body recovered more quickly and I felt more capable and mentally more on top of things after the natural - was this due to no drugs, or just that it was my second child and I wasn't so daunted,nervous & overwhelmed - who knows? At the end of the day I believe that it is each woman's right to make their own choice at each birth... as it is with so many decisions we make in life - whilst it is well and good for various people, either individuals, research bodies, health organisations etc to want to provide as with information - that is ALL they should be doing.. I have the right to make decisions on how I birth, feed, parent etc for myself and resent being made to feel as though I have failed in some respect for different decisions I have made. Women should be supporting each other to make the decisions that best suit them (with regards to ALL aspects of their lives) - not hounding each other about their personal beliefs. Give the information, and provide the support for those that choose to take your advice and leave those that don't do their thing. All you can do is put the information out there.

Cherryskin said...

Anonymous, are you for real?!

You come out with "So let's all get smart and get that needle." and in the same breath call *others* patronising?

You might be surprised to know that although I am not a "natural birth nazi" I did not have epidurals in either of my two labours, and I LOVED my labours.

Yes, the pain was strong, but I would not give it up for anything -- the pain was part of the whole awesome experience, and being in touch with what my body did is incredibly precious to me.

I was actually excitedly looking forward to my second labour!

And call me a "wimp" but damn straight the thought of a huge needle entering my spinal column freaks me the hell out! As does the thought of my abdomen being sliced open to remove my child from my uterus. Give me a natural bodily function any day. Maybe I am a natural birth nazi after all.

(Although I certainly don't refrain from sharing my thoughts, I do try hard not to impose my beliefs on others.)

Anonymous said...

I have not seen the salon article but it sounds absolutely ridiculous. Why is birth painful? Oh, I don't know....maybe for the same reason hitting your thumb with a hammer is painful? Because it is!! It's not that complicated. Is birth natural? Of course it is. Is birth (and pregnancy) dangerous? Of course, it can be in certain situations. Are people so hung up on their particular agendas regarding childbirth that they have lost their common sense?

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