How Sore is Labour?

Childbirth can be a painful experience so it’s important you know about the different types of pain you could experience at the different stages of labour.

It’s also important for you to know about the various forms of self-treatment, therapies and medical treatment that are available to women experiencing labour and what they involve. Keep reading our blog to learn more.

What do labour pains feel like?

While you are pregnant you may feel your uterus tightening. These instances are called Braxton Hicks contractions. When you go into labour, these tightenings will occur more strongly and at an increased rate.

The latent stage of labour is the longest phase. This is when the cervix begins to soften in preparation for dilation. This phase is accompanied by irregular contractions, which is where the uterus gets tight and then relaxes again. Labour is established when the cervix has dilated to 4cm and the contractions become more intense and occur regularly and more frequently.

Pain through the stages of labour

The type of pain you experience during childbirth will change depending on which stage of labour you are in - here is a summary of what kind of pain each part of the labour process will produce:

Early labour
  • Contractions will increase in rate and strength as they fall into a pattern.
  • Contractions at this stage will make the abdomen feel tight. You may also experience a dull backache, feelings of pressure in the abdomen and pelvis, and a feeling similar to one experienced during intense menstrual cramping.
  • When contractions begin, they will only be 30 to 45 seconds in length with up to several minutes of rest in between each one.
Active labour
  • Contractions may begin to feel like they are wrapping around your body.
  • Possibility of cramping and discomfort in the legs as contractions become more frequent and go on for as long as a minute.
  • When your cervix is approximately 8 centimetres dilated, you may have 30 seconds to 1 to 2 minutes between contractions as you prepare to enter the pushing stage of labour. During this time it’s not uncommon to feel lightheaded, nauseous, and have hot flashes or chills.
  • When the cervix has dilated around 10cm you may feel an intense pressure, which is just your body telling you that it’s ready for you to push out the baby.
  • During this period, you’ll be pushing in time with the contractions, these contractions may feel less painful than the contractions felt during dilation.
  • Other forms of pain you might experience could be caused by vaginal tearing or muscle fatigue/pain from continuous pushing.

Coping with the pain

There are different ways in which labour pains can be relieved during childbirth, and these too vary depending on which stage of labour you are going through:

Pain relief during early labour

  • Eat and Drink - Keeping your energy levels up is essential.
  • Breathing - Breathing slowly and rhythmically can help relax your muscles.
  • Rest and Relax - Helps to relieve any stress or discomfort you might be feeling.
  • Hypnobirthing - Helps remove your focus from the pain you are experiencing.


  • Aromatherapy - Uses concentrated essential oils to reduce your fear and improve your wellbeing. Please take advice from your midwife or aromatherapist as not all oils are safe for labour or for a newborn baby.
  • Reflexology - Massages are given to parts of your feet that relate to the parts of your body that are in pain during labour.

Medical Procedures

  • Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation (TENS) - A gentle electrical current is passed through four flat pads stuck to your back.
  • Entonox - A gas made up of 50% nitrous oxide and 50% oxygen to help relieve pain.
  • Opioids - Morphine-like painkillers.
  • Epidurals and Spinals - A thin tube is placed near the nerves in your back to give you painkillers during labour.

For more questions about labour pain relief, view our helpful pain relief FAQs section, where we have answered some of the most common questions about this topic.

On our website, you will find we have a huge number of resources for expectant mothers and their families about pain relief options during labour, in both leaflet and video form.

Browse our website and get to know all the pain relief options available to you. A lot of our resources are translated into various languages and are easy to share.

If you have any questions related to this blog or comments feel free to get in touch. However, please note we cannot provide specific medical advice.

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