What Do You Remember About Labor? Depends on How Painful It Was

A new study has confirmed what scientists have suspected: your memory of labor is influenced more by how painful it was than by how long it lasted. This makes perfect sense to me. I know the hard numbers of my labor: 23 hours in the delivery room, two(!) epidurals, one baby. But my recollection of the actual experience is a bit spotty, the most vivid moments being the epidurals, the stretches of excruciating back labor pain and the second my son entered the world.

Apparently, I'm not alone. The study's team of scientists somehow got 320 pregnant women to allow a researcher into the delivery room with them, reports Science Daily. Every 20 minutes, the researcher asked the woman to rate her pain on a scale of 1 (no pain) to 100 (worst pain possible). (Side note: Can you imagine having a perfect stranger regularly quiz you on how much pain you're in while you're in labor?) The same tenacious researcher followed up with the new mom two days and two months after baby was born, asking her to use the same 1-100 scale to evaluate her labor pain from beginning to end.

For the most part, the pain ratings women gave postpartum were fairly similar to the ones they offered during the throes of labor.  Yet, how long they labored had no bearing on how much pain they remember feeling. This falls right in line with a phenomenon known as "duration neglect," where we remember the pain of an event and ignore everything else, including how long it lasted.  (The study's full results were published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.)

The scientists also found that an epidural can influence your memory of labor, since it effectively blocks the pain. Women who received one reported feeling relatively moderate pain when interviewed after the fact, this despite the fact that they were in labor for longer. Researchers point to two possible reasons for this: duration neglect and the fact that the epidural is already in effect by the end of labor, when pain is most intense. Or, as they wrote in the findings, "In practical terms, these results suggest that epidural analgesia is not only beneficial during childbirth itself but also effective in modulating memory of it."

Tell us: What do you remember about your labor?

For her second delivery, Christine decided to use various methods of natural pain relief instead of an epidural. Get her tips on how to give birth drug-free.

Image of woman in hospital courtesy of Shutterstock 

1 Comment

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