For most women, labor is more painful than pushing because it lasts longer, gets gradually (or rapidly) more intense as it progresses and involves a large number of muscles, ligaments, organs, nerves and skin surface. Everything from the breast/rib area down works hard, contracting as tightly as possible for one minute out of every two or three for hours. Pushing goes a lot quicker.
With no epidural or narcotics on board, most women rate active-phase labor a 10 on the pain scale of one-to-ten. With good pain management techniques taught in childbirth education, breathing, relaxation, massage, hypnosis and other methods that were (and still are) popular when you were born, most women can lower that number a lot.
Epidurals decrease pain dramatically, in some cases all the way to zero. It's totally subjective though. I've had a few patients say labor doesn't really hurt. Far more however, say it hurts like hell.
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By the time you're ready to push and the baby presses into the birth canal, most of the work is done. Baby's head presses on nerves that desensitize the pelvis and many women report feeling kind of numb. Some (I've never actually met any) say it even feels good, similar to orgasm.
Pushing is often a relief because it's a natural urge they can give in to. It's active, not passive. They can finally do something to get baby out. Mother Nature figured this out because otherwise, nobody would be willing to push and we'd be pregnant forever.
I wish I could say this is every woman's experience but again, pain is entirely subjective. We're all individuals with our own nervous systems, brain chemistries, personal experiences, etc. It's not for us to judge what is painful to other people.
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