What is Labor Really Like?


Thank you for taking the time to read What is Labor Really Like? In this article we’ll answer some of the burning questions about childbirth with transparent, positive honesty.

It’s the question of the ages. Your pregnancy is winding down, you can feel funny little things, and it’s impossible to not wonder–especially if this is your first baby.

You’ve probably asked a lot of other people about what to expect and gotten a lot of different answers–some positive, some not so much.

Well, consider me your positive-minded, encouraging supporter who’s also keeping it real.

I don’t see any good in drawing out every negative aspect of labor. I see no healthy reason to fixate on certain things, to glorify them and to frighten you.

Like that’s really going to set you up for success, right?

So here are the obvious questions, with sincere answers and some not-so-obvious details. Let’s do this.

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What is Labor Really Like?

Does It Hurt?

Yes. It’s painful. You might be that one-in-a-million girl that doesn’t have a painful labor, but the best thing to do is to prepare yourself for the fact that it hurts.

What Kind of Hurt Does it Feel Like?

Here’s where you can possibly get 150 different answers. Everyone has their own way of describing the pain–to be fair, everyone has their own way of comprehending the pain and translating it into words.

Think of labor pains this way. They’re called contractions. When you think of muscles contracting, what comes to your mind? Things like tightening, squeezing, tensing, just to name a few.

Well, your uterus will be contracting. A lot. Your tummy will get hard and you’ll feel that incredibly tight feeling on the inside of your tummy, too. Your entire body will respond to that feeling because of the intensity.

You’ll feel things you may describe as cramping, aching, pressure, squeezing, dull pain.

In the beginning, it will feel something akin to a menstrual cramp (this is still a rather vague description as women experience so many different things on different scales), and you will probably doubt what you’re feeling until you have other obvious signs.

For me, early labor began as a tightening in my tummy. It was so mild I went to bed and fell asleep and didn’t wake up until my water broke.

Then, as my contractions increased (rapidly over the next 2 hours), the discomfort grew to more intense tightening. It felt like a cramp combined with a dull pain (sorry, that’s the best I’ve got for you), with pressure added into the mix. This combination intensified as the minutes went by.

I'm Afraid of Giving Birth

Is There Anything You Can Do for the Pain?

Okay, so there are a lot of different sources out there that claim take away labor pain. Do I believe it?

Not a word of it.

Listen, Sister. Labor hurts. It’s hurt for thousands of years. An Epidural might take the edge off, but there are no guarantees. This is just the way the process goes. To get from no baby to baby, you have to labor and deliver, one way or the other.

Focusing your energy on escaping the pain is going to exhaust and discourage you.

Here’s the Key:

Instead, focus on managing the pain. Focus on understanding the pain. Allow your body to accept that this hurts, and watch your body handle the pain like the incredible mama you are.

Are there ways to manage the pain? Absolutely!

Read about how you can labor without an Epidural for some sanity-saving tips and ideas (from someone who’s done it this way more than once)!

Check out this Organic Perineal Balm by Earth Mama. I absolutely LOVE this product and swear by it!

Pro-Tip: Begin applying it in the second trimester as a preventative treatment to help prevent tearing (it worked for me!)

Ways to Handle Labor Pains

The best thing I can suggest to you is to plan your labor. Read about planning your labor here. Once you have a plan in place, you’ll immediately feel more confident in the process.

Handling your labor is 95% mental preparation.

Spend the months of your pregnancy preparing your mind for the road ahead. Allow yourself to feel whatever you honestly feel.

Just be honest.

Are you afraid? Apprehensive? Excited? Nervous? Impatient? Joyful? Anxious? Hopeful? Curious? If you are those things, it’s perfectly alright. Pregnancy is not a competition. It’s a personal walk. Be real with yourself and allow yourself the honesty of your true emotions.

When you know what emotions you’re facing, you can deal with them. You can learn yourself in a deep way, and then focus on setting your mind on the right path.

The best way to enter your labor is feeling confident, excited, relaxed, at peace and prepared. It’s okay if you feel nervous and even a little anxious, just as long as you’re in a place where you’re settled, where you feel like “whooah! Let’s do this!”

Prepare your mind and heart for labor with this powerful resource.

What You Can Physically Do to Manage your Labor?

There are some physical ways to help you manage your labor. Moving around, using the birthing ball, taking a bath, having someone massage your back, certain exercises, rhythmic motions… all of this is a great way to help you physically manage your contractions.

The best thing I can tell you is to just do what you feel like doing. When my labor started, I just moved about the house, took a shower, braided my hair and got dressed for the hospital.

Within 20 minutes my contractions were intensifying at a pretty high pace. I laid across my birthing ball and rolled back a forth, allowing myself to fall into a natural rhythm. It wasn’t planned.

It was what I felt like I needed to do.

After a little while the contractions grew more intense and I wanted to lay down. I didn’t feel comfortable lying on my back, so I laid on my side and curled my knees slightly. I asked my mom to rub my back, which she did as I continued to just breathe.

Keeping It Tranquil

As this was taking place, my husband had soft music playing, the lights were dim, and everyone was quiet and calm. This was something I had planned in advance.

Eventually I couldn’t get comfortable in any position, so I moved about, alternating between leaning across the bed, pacing, and lying down.

Within a few minutes I felt immense pressure in my lower pelvis and knew it was time to go. Again, I didn’t plan every movement. I followed what felt right for me as it came.

I labored instinctively. If you allow yourself to be real in the realest sense, you’ll just naturally do this. (I also feel like too much reading will work against this. Read more about it here.)

Is Labor Scary?

Here’s the honest-to-goodness answer.

It doesn’t need to be. But it can be, if your mind is not in the right place.

Remember how I said mental preparation is 95% of the battle? This is where it really matters. If you enter your labor feeling afraid, your journey will be much more challenging than if you were mentally prepared and had handled your fears before labor.

This is why I wrote 50 Biblical Affirmations for a Fearless Pregnancy. Getting yourself to a confident, peaceful place is crucial for a smooth labor. If you feel confident, you’re going to handle the phases and the process of labor with natural strength, awareness and even excitement.

What Labor Pain Means

Yes, labor is painful. But the pain isn’t because something is wrong. It’s because everything is right.

Everything is doing exactly what is should be doing. Associating your labor pain with your perfectly functioning body is a key factor in feeling confident and fighting off fear.

As your labor progresses, you’ll find that it can become more nerve-wracking. You’ll start feeling pressure build in your lower back and pelvic area.

Your senses will ramp up a gear (or ten), and everything will seem to become coated with a sense of “it’s time”. When this happens, you’ll also start to feel like, “I can’t do this.”

You’ve most likely hit the phase of transition labor, which means baby is really close!

This is also the most vulnerable part of labor, where the feeling that there is no going back sinks in. This is where the feeling of “I’m not in control. I’m going to have to push. I have no choice,” can try to overwhelm you.

The mounting pressure, the close contractions, and your amped up senses can easily cause more panic than ease.

The Prep Pays Off

This is where you need to have prepared yourself.

This is where your time spent accepting things as they are, preparing and building confidence will pay off, where you’ll allow yourself to hurt. You’ll allow yourself to feel the pressure. You’ll allow yourself to just do what you need to do. Baby is almost here! It won’t be long now, and you’ll be holding your sweet one in your arms!

This is where “Mama” comes alive and takes over, taking on the task of bringing precious Little into the world. This is where you are going to be amazing.

Identifying Actual Labor

Here are some other tips you should probably know

1: Your water can break any time during labor. You shouldn’t judge the phase of labor by your water breaking. What you can rely on is that this is the real deal.

2: The timing of your contractions is more important than your water breaking. Your water can break in the early stages of labor. Knowing how close you are to pushing time is better discerned by how far apart your contractions are.

3: Your contractions will feel like they are clumped together at the end. There won’t be a discernible rise and fall… but you most likely won’t care, as by this time you’ll feel pressure and the urge to push.

4: You’re not stupid. If you feel like you need to push, you’re probably spot on. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re the one that’s laboring, and you’re the one that is having your baby. Follow your instincts and be confident. When you feel something, go with it.

5: Remember to try and snack in the early stages of labor. When your labor gets more advanced, you won’t feel like you’re able to eat but you’ll need strength. Honey sticks are a great way to get (and keep) something down. You may throw up later on, but don’t let yourself focus on that until it comes. Stay hydrated, too.

Read about my 16-minute birth story.

You’ve Got This!

Deal with your fears before delivery day, and when they try to come knocking during your labor, you’ll already be muscled up and you’ll know what to do. Want to know why? Because you’re mama. Because you can so stinking do this.

“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

Philippians 4:13

Thank you for reading What is Labor Really Like? I hope this has helped you in some way to prepare for the most beautiful moment ever!

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Please bear in mind that I am not a physician, nor am I in any way diagnosing or giving medical advice. For questions regarding your health, contact your doctor or healthcare provider.

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Elizabeth Jimenez

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