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Moms Talk: What Does Labor Really Feel Like?

Dianna Graveman |14, November 2011


Moms Talk: What Does Labor Really Feel Like?

Come on, face it. Women like to talk about their labors and deliveries. It doesn't matter how old our children are; bring up the subject of childbirth, and we all have a tale to tell. I asked several young mothers to tell me about their labor experiences, and they were all too willing to share!

How long were you in labor? How did it progress?

Laura: Eight and a half hours. I was induced, but I progressed very quickly once they started me. (I had been in pre-labor for almost two weeks. I would have contractions, and then they would stop.)

Nikki: I went into the hospital around 6:30 a.m. I had Thomas at 4:15 exactly that same day.

Jess: On May 27th, I just wasn't feeling right and did not get any sleep all night. I called the doctor in the morning and they told me I could either go to the hospital or just come in for my appointment. We decided to just go to the appointment. My doctor checked me when I got there, and I was already 3 centimeters dilated. She told me that either I could go home and wait for my water to break or go to the hospital and let them do it for me. I preferred ruining the hospitals sheets, so we headed to the hospital. I was only at the hospital for about nine hours until [Colin] was born, which really surprised me because he was my first.

Cathi: I had hired a doula (female labor assitant) so I could go through most of my labor at home. I had a birth plan written ahead of time to experience natural childbirth. My water broke at 9:00 a.m., and contractions were slow throughout the day. At 5:00 p.m., I had contractions about five minutes apart, so I called my doctor, and she told me to get to the hospital. When I arrived, I had to be placed on IV medication to lower my blood pressure, and my birth plan went out the window. My blood pressure continued to rise and the baby's heart rate was dropping, so my doctor told me my best option at that point for the safety of all concerned was a C-section.

Kelli: Each of my labors lasted approximately twenty hours from the first real contractions to birth. I always "stalled" at four centimeters. Once I hit the "magic 4," I was given Pitocin and would begin my exercises of bouncing on a labor ball, pacing around the birthing suite, walking the halls, anything to help move the process along. While living in Maryland, I was fortunate enough to have birthing suites with wonderful, huge showers, which I was able to use for water therapy when contractions became intense.

What do labor pains feel like?
How would you describe them to someone who has not had a baby?

Laura: I would say that they feel like very bad period cramps.

Nikki: They felt like highly intensified cramps.

Jess: The worst thing I was feeling [in the beginning of labor] was extreme lower back pain and a "pulling" like feeling in my abdomen.

Kelli: Labor pains are extremely difficult to articulate as they vary from woman to woman, and from labor to labor. I used Ina May's Guide to Childbirth as a means to produce language capable of describing the sensations of early to active labor.

Looking back...

Nikki: I didn't have any type of education such as Lamaze. I wish I did. As I was experiencing hard labor, the doctor asked me if I knew how to breathe, like they teach in Lamaze. Once she showed me, it calmed me down. If I were to get pregnant again, I would take Lamaze classes.

Kelli: I used a midwife for my first three children, and she was a wonderful coach and guide through the experience. The midwives in Maryland all worked very closely with obstetricians in a hospital setting so that any potential difficulties could be quickly addressed. In St. Louis, I felt my last two labors and births were both very medically-centered and focused less on the experience of birthing and more on "procedure."

Cathi: I was devastated [when learning I needed a C-section] since I had, in my mind, planned this beautiful, non-invasive delivery. I realized afterward that it really didn't matter how he arrived, just that he did arrive safely.

Jess: I didn't really have a "birth plan"...and Colin James had a good plan. I wouldn't change a thing!

Let other Moms know what to expect by sharing your experiences in the comment section below.

Dianna Graveman is a St. Louis writer, editor, educator, and mother of three. Her work has appeared in many print and online publications. Visit her website at or her blog at

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