Q&A: Why Does Labor Hurt?

Learn what to expect during labor.

woman in labor
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Q. Why does labor hurt?

A. Your uterus has a tremendous job to do when you go into labor. This muscular, elastic organ literally squeezes the baby out of you. Labor commences when the uterus starts to contract and the cervix begins to open. With each contraction, your uterus squeezes your baby deeper into the pelvis and closer to birth.

During a contraction, your muscular uterus flexes so intensely that you can feel it from the outside of your body; your abdomen hardens noticeably during a contraction and softens when the contraction ends. All of this squeezing and flexing and pushing hurts. Imagine how much the muscles in your arms, back, and legs would hurt if you tried to push a car up a hill!

As your labor continues, the contractions will come closer together and last longer, intensifying the pain. During the second stage of labor, you will give your uterus some help. When you feel a contraction, you'll bear down as hard as you can to push the baby through the vagina. Pushing usually isn't painful. In fact, many women experience a feeling of relief when they push. But it is hard work because you're summoning the strength of muscles throughout your body to help push your baby out.

Labor does hurt, but women are strong, and you are stronger than you realize. You'll endure the pain, and if it gets to be too much, you can ask for pain medication.

Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.

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