Carol Burnett, during one of her famous comedy routines, once remarked that the only way to make a man understand labor pains would be to take his bottom lip and pull it up over his head. Ouch. At some point, if it hasn’t already, it’s going to occur to you to ask, “How painful is labor really?”

Well, Ms. Burnett would know. She went through labor three times. And yet, women have been going through labor, and living to tell about it since the beginning of time. It’s a telling fact that throughout history, most women who have been in labor once have opted to do it again. That’s not to say it doesn’t hurt, but it does perhaps indicate that the joys of having children outweigh the pain of bringing them into the world.  While it is safe to say that labor can be a very painful experience, the degree and duration of labor pain varies widely from woman to woman, and even from pregnancy to pregnancy.

In today’s world, there are several options for your baby’s delivery. While natural child birth (ie, no pain medication) is a popular option, it’s not the only option. There are epidurals and other pain numbing medications that can ease the pain of delivering a baby for you. These methods do not generally eliminate all labor pain, but they do take the edge off, and there’s no shame whatsoever in opting to use them. Additionally, there are several psychological pain management techniques, many of which can be learned in Lamaze classes. As with all important aspects of your pregnancy, discuss your pain management options with your doctor.

Labor pains usually come upon you gradually and increase in severity as you draw closer to your baby’s delivery. Most women describe early labor pains as a cramping sensation, much like the cramping experienced during menstrual periods. As the uterus begins it’s process of dilating (stretching and contracting), you may feel as though you are having a stomach ache.

Labor pains grow closer and closer together as the delivery draws nearer, and generally more severe. The pain becomes more and more intense, closer to what Ms. Burnett describes. The exact duration of labor, and how long an expectant mother will have labor pains, varies widely from pregnancy to pregnancy, but if everything goes as it’s supposed to, the labor will soon be over, and you’ll be holding your brand new little boy or girl. And mothers everywhere agree that the joy of holding that newborn child for the first time more than makes up for the pain.

How Painful is Labor Really?