Page last updated at 11:01 GMT, Monday, 13 July 2009 12:01 UK

Is pain in childbirth a good thing?

The pain of childbirth may have benefits on which women who opt for painkilling epidurals miss out, a senior midwife has said. However, a consultant obstetrician has said the pain of having a baby must not be under-estimated.

We asked you for your reaction - please find a selection of your comments below.

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Comment on the debate


Both of my births have been inductions with syntocin. At both births I've been told to have an epidural as the syntocin can be very painful. On both occasions staff have been shocked when I've refused the offer and have gone through without pain relief. I agree strongly that with pain should be managed but shouldn't be removed from the experience, it's part of birth and once you've got that wonderful ball of baby in your arms you'll struggle to remember what it felt like. Surely if it was that bad, women wouldn't do it again and again?!
Charlotte, Chelmsford, Essex

Choice during childbirth - pah! that's a laugh. I didn't want to be induced or to have an epidural but was bullied into having both, the epidural didn't work properly and I ended up strapped to a bed which made the whole thing an awful experience. in my experience, first time mothers are pushed into doing what the doctors want, and many I know were traumatised by the whole thing. I may as well have chucked the 'birth plan' out the window
LJ, Cambridge

Trust a man to say something like this - I don't think it's a rite of passage I'm more than comfortable with my identity in this world and what I have achieved without going through this. I'm due to have my first baby in a few days and I'm already experiencing pains that I've never had before which in turn makes me think can I cope with this - while I understand that as a new mum you don't want to be so drugged up that you can't even focus on your baby, options are important and it should be made more clear that you can have successful pain management pathway. But, every woman is different and experiences pain and the length of labour differently and so it should be her choice without made to feel that she is a failure in some way or that she has failed her "rite of passage"......honestly.
Natalie D Kershaw, Bradford, UK

As a former midwife and a mother of three, my feeling is a woman in labour wants an epidural then she should have one. I really feel that unless you have experienced the pain of child birth for yourself in reality you are not able to make any comment on it. It is like nothing else I have ever experienced, but as soon as my children were born I forgot all about the pain. I had an epidural , thank goodness . I don't think the type of pain relief you have in labour makes any difference to the bond you have with your child. Pain during childbirth is not a rite of passage, it is something that happens with childbirth but if it can be relieved then it should be.
Joanne, Broadstairs, England

I had a relatively short but intense labour (3.5 hours) and had gas and air for pain relief although it didn't really do anything for me! I always wanted a 'natural birth' but when it came down to it, I wanted anything which would make the pain go away! The only reason I didn't take an epidural was because I knew I was unable to sit still whilst being administered and didn't want to take the risk. I think all options should be given as it currently is!
S Peters, London, UK

I have the epidural with both my children and will be having the same again with this child. Having the epidural didn't affect my bonding with the children either....If it is the right thing for you as an individual then you should have it.....
Vicky, Chesterfield

Please can Dr Walsh be the first male to give birth naturally - then we will talk.
Aileen Brady, Pinner Middx England

I am not surprised with Dr Walsh comments, he will never experience labour pains being male!! All men think its easy and not too sore. My labour was really sore as my baby was back to back and don't think I would have been able to enjoy the birth and the long process as much as I did without an epidural. Once I had the epidural I was able to relax and still feel that I gave birth naturally and bonded well with my baby straight away.
Gillian Stewart, Glasgow

When my wife went into labour she was given a simple choice - paracetamol, an epidural, or no pain relief at all. That's why the numbers of epidurals are rising - that and the difficulties hospitals were having in sourcing opiate-based forms of pain relief.
Dave, Edinburgh, Scotland

Very easy for a man to judge the pain of childbirth and again really is in no position to gauge bonding with "mother and baby"!

Mothers who have opted for epidurals or even had the decision taken out of their hands when sections are required should not be made to feel inferior mothers. At the end of the day it is what comes next which decides what is a good mother/baby relationship.
Jackie Jenvey, Copenhagen Denmark

I have 2 daughters aged 5 and 15 months both labour was natural and beautiful, all the pain that comes with it is nothing once you have your child in your hands. Why change what mother nature intended us to go through?
Rayhana Begum, Tower Hamlets

"prepared her for the responsibility of motherhood" Fine, so what does a man need to do to become a responsible father?
Elodie, London

What a load of rubbish!! Suggesting pain helps a mother bond with her baby is ludicrous!! I have had three babies and my first labour was awful, it was prolonged and I was in agony. I was given gas and air and pethidine. The pethidine wore off and so was ineffective and the gas and air made me sick delirious, I wasn't fit enough to hold my baby and did not even know who I was! The second and third time I had an epidural and I was awake and with it the whole time, I felt a lot more relaxed and happy and remember the birth and was able to put the baby to the breast immediately. To dissuade women from an epidural or make them feel guilty in anyway for requesting one is disgusting!!
Miss N, Luton England

I had an epidural with both of my children and have never regretted this for a moment. It made me feel confident about giving birth knowing that I had a choice to lessen the pain if I needed it. Having this choice made me feel in control, almost relaxed and completely untraumatised about the birth itself. When my children were born I was excited and completely ready. Not having to focus on tremendous pain I was able to truly look forward to the birth. Having an epidural did not interfere in any way with the bonding process I had with my children - if anything I believe it helped because prior to the birth I was fairly relaxed and pain free. It may not be for everyone but it is important for women in labour to have this choice if it available.
Rachel, Radstock, Somerset

I find a lot of this pain discussion business rubbish and demeaning to women. As if the agony of having labour pains makes you bond with your baby or not. If a woman is not going to bond, it won't make much difference whether or not she had an epidural. The end purpose of modern childbirth is to give birth to a healthy baby and have a healthy mother. How we get there is irrelevant. Let's stop making it more difficult than it already is. Intense pain does not make you a better or worse mother.
Sue, London, UK

During labour I had requested some form of pain relief as the pain was so intense I didn't think I could stand it. By the time I was eventually examined I was fully dilated and they said it was too late so I just had gas and air which didn't seem to help at all. The pain of childbirth was the worst pain I have ever been in but now I am glad that I did it naturally and didn't have help. I am expecting again and hope to be able to give birth naturally this time again but I think the option should be there for women to have pain relief if they feel they need it but other options should definitely be looked into. I have a very close bond with my child but then know women who have had epidurals and caesareans who also have that close bond so don't know if there is much in that.
Helen, Leeds

No one who has not given birth is qualified to comment I had an epidural and assisted delivery with my son if not he or I stood a risk of death so thank god for epidurals and modern medicine I walked out of hosp with my son who is now 11 and I love him with all my heart even after an epidural
Linda Phillipson, Essex

Have some of these " experts" ever had a baby - obviously not in the case of Denis Walsh- one of my deliveries was so painful it was another 6 years before I could even think about having another baby. Only a man would use a term like "rites of passage". Giving birth is a dangerous thing and the pain is awful - does he suggest that operations should be done without pain relief? - no of course not! At the risk of stating the obvious- no man would ever undergo giving birth without ALL the pain relief possible.
Ingrid, Newton Abbot

This article's premise is totally ridiculous. Even if the 'rite of passage' mechanism 'helped strengthen a mother's bond with her baby', what evidence can Walsh possibly have? This is a nigh-on untestable hypothesis, giving rise to what is at best an opinion piece, reported here as scientific fact. How this deserves to be third article on the news front page, ahead of reams of fascinating current science stories, is quite inexplicable.
Andrew Steele, Oxford, UK

I've never had an epidural but not for want of trying. Women in labour can be let down because anaesthetists are not available. My first pregnancy was painful but manageable and my daughter was born after the administration of pethidine which made me very nauseous, sick and confused. Not wanting to have pethidine again I had a very violent birth with my second child. He was born at 1.15 in the morning and I had been asking for an epidural since 9pm. I was left traumatised and suffered severe post natal depression. My subsequent pregnancies were born at home as I was bitterly disappointed with the lack of pain relief options at hospital. Ante natal classes give the impression that all pain relief methods are easily available when it is not the case. I don't believe having an epidural would affect bonding. Every birth is different and pain relief should be chosen accordingly.
Julia Watson, Great Dunmow, UK

Why is this news? Is it because a man has said it, so that all the women can come out and attack him for not being a woman etc... Dr Walsh has more experience than many women who may or may not have had babies but he will be criticized for not being able to have gone through it himself. Many, if not most, midwives believe that the pain experienced during delivery is natural and can be tolerated, given the right support, but that never gets printed. Making it pain free is not necessarily the best option. Pain is part of life and without it we lose the sense of what it is like to experience life. Women delivered babies for thousands of years without epidurals or IV painkillers, many still do.
Steven Szarvas-Jones, Melton Mowbray UK

I chose to have an epidural but this was denied to me by the midwife who thought that I didn't need it. Instead I was left in excruciating and tiring labour pain for 24 hours before midwives decided maybe I was going to have a long labour. When the decision was made that I could have an epidural, I waited 2 hours as the anaesthetist kept be called away. Once it dawned on the midwife that after 30 hours of labour, my waters hadn't broken or that my baby hadn't moved during the entire process, she called an emergency and my son was born via an emergency C-section. At this stage, his heart had stopped and I had been in labour for over 30 hours. I don't think I would have managed natural childbirth if it wasn't for the epidural as my son was stuck and would never have been born via natural childbirth. It didn't affect me bond with my son at all except for about a hours after he was born. I couldn't hold him due to a complication with the spinal block used for the C-section.I love him even more because I knew how close I came to losing him. Instead I feel I was just a statistic as they needed to keep the number of epidurals and c-sections down.
Janice, London

I don't see it as a "rite of passage". I didn't have an epidural when I gave birth. Just at that moment when I thought I could no longer take the pain I moved to the pushing phase. It stopped being painful then and was just hard work. My body guided me and the waves of the contractions helped push the baby out. An epidural would have masked that. I liked to be able to feel what my body was asking me to do and I just followed its lead. I was lucky to have had a short labour for a primagravida, some are not so lucky and epidurals do have their place and women should not feel guilty about having one.
Nicola, Teddington, UK

No No No, I had all 5 of mine with no pain relief at all, it can scar in the memory for ever and give only negative memories of what should be a major point in ones life, sometimes it is so intense it can be thought of as the babies fault. give me anything to make it pleasant
K Davies, Gwent

I can't comment on whether epidurals are a good thing or not. However, including the gender of an expert in the headline of a story like this is inflammatory and unnecessary. If he's an expert, he's an expert and his gender is irrelevant.
Peter Saffrey, Glasgow, UK

Rite of passage, there's an unfortunate phrase if ever. Absolute rot, should people be made to have surgery without anaesthetic or have a tooth removed without pain relief. Back in the old days legs were amputated after a slug of rum and people suffered because there was no analgesia. Why should a woman be made to feel that is still acceptable to have to endure the pain of childbirth when it is completely avoidable? I had a relatively pain free child birth with an epidural, and enjoyed being in a position to talk and chat through delivery, ask questions and contribute the whole process in lucid and positive way. I was energised and happy to take hold of my baby when he appeared [without suction or forceps]. What is wrong with a culture that removes unnecessary pain? This smacks as being just another cost cutting ploy at the expense of women's health.
Marie Varney, Matlock Derbyshire

I had an exceptionally painful childbirth and was encouraged to use 'natural' methods of pain control, such as hypnosis. As a result, when I could bear the pain no more I was told it was too late for anything other than gas and air. I was quite traumatised by the pain, and I also had to have an epidural post-delivery whilst I had extensive stitches. I have since had a second baby through planned C-section which was a much better experience. The level of pain experienced had absolutely no bearing on either the health of or my ability to bond with my children, and I find Dr Walsh's assertion that pain in childbirth is a 'rite of passage' both laughable and offensive. What a shame he can't experience it himself.
B Henderson, Brighton, UK

Each labour and birth is different, as is each woman's pain threshold. Studies such as this will only cause a woman to feel guilty and weak if she feels she needs an epidural. After 36 hours in labour which ended in an emergency c-section, I certainly did not feel guilty at needing an epidural, and in no way has it affected my relationship with my son.
Wendy Hatton, Wirral, Merseyside

I was terrified of giving birth naturally .. due in part I feel to my mother's constant comments as a child if I cried for any reason relating to injuring myself or cried when I was ill she would say ' wait until you give birth - you'll know what pain is then.' I then grew up with such fear of giving birth that I did not want to have children. I spoke to my consultant regarding this and he kindly offered to give me a Caesarian birth. I do now feel that what Dr Walsh is saying is very true in regard to my own experience. I definitely did not feel that maternal instinct that is meant to be felt by a mother and I never felt that I bonded with my baby at all. Perhaps had I experienced a 'natural child birth' then my experience of becoming a mother would have been different.
Andrea Callaway-Wood

When you are in labour for 19 hours without eating and sleeping an epidural was the best pain relief for me as I also had complications. It definitely has not affected my relationship with my baby. You don't get any prizes for having a natural birth. How dare this male doctor even comment on women having epidurals when he will never ever experience the agony of labour!!!
Mrs Wright, Nottingham, UK

I didn't choose to have an epidural but was told i needed one as i have a heart murmur but having the epidural has had no effect on the relationship i have with my son we have an unbelievable bond together
Aimee, Leeds, England

At last, a sensible voice from the medical profession on childbirth! I support Dr Walsh's comments 100%, and would go 1 step further in saying that childbirth should become totally unmedicalised, and should begin without any intervention, and no offer of pain relief. If women were allowed to manage their own births and weren't interfered with by midwives and doctors who want to control and manage births to fit in with hospital procedures and midwives shifts, more women would have the courage and belief that it can be done without pain relief and minimal intervention. Midwives need to be taught Dr Michele Odent's theories, and we would have a far happier and far more natural childbirth experience. I have had 4 beautiful, magical and uncomplicated homebirths ..... they were uncomplicated because they were at home with no medical intervention, it wasn't just 'good luck', like most people would suggest. Had I been in hospital, the writing would have been on the wall for epidurals, gas and air, forceps and complete medical intervention.
Heidi Usher, London

Childbirth is a wonderful but primitive experience. Pushing a new life into the world is an unparalleled. I had an epidural allowing me to focus on giving birth rather than endless pain. I was very much aware of the amount of work and concentration needed by me to bring my baby into the world safely. When he was placed in my arms and he looked into my eye it was pure love.
Kara, Luton, UK

I had both my children naturally with no painkillers at all not even gas and air in 1987 and 1989. I was a wonderful experience. I would recommend this to any potential mother, and only opt for painkillers if necessary.
Tracey Windmill, Cambridge

I am amazed by the sweeping statement that pain in childbirth "helped strengthen a mother's bond with her baby, and prepared her for the responsibility of motherhood". How then are fathers, in the absence of such pain, able to prepare themselves for fatherhood? The statement is incredible! My personal experience was a long, painful 34 hour labour which included an epidural, which actually ran out during the final stages. The pain and horror which I felt during labour contributed nothing to the bond I felt with my baby. I have a beautiful baby boy, whom I would say I bonded with most effectively when the horror of childbirth faded into a distant memory.
Dr Catherine Bruce, Birtley, Co. Durham

The pain I endured in childbirth pushed my Blood Pressure to dangerous levels. 26 years later I still have high blood pressure. If I was starting a family now I would vote for an epidural every time.
Sue, Halifax, Yorkshire

More should be done to help women prepare for the birth experience - I found the level of pain a huge shock when I had my child, and all I really knew about was gas and air, pethidine and epidural - I ended up having all three. While the epidural did help with the pain, it also slowed the labour right down and the whole experience was very unpleasant. I wish I'd known more about breathing and relaxation techniques. I suffered with post-natal depression and feelings of guilt that I'd handled the birth really "badly", when in reality I was simply unprepared.
Carolyn, Manchester

I agree with Dr Walsh, having had 1st baby with an epidural and 2nd without. Both were difficult but the epidural was only needed b/c I didn't have the confidence or self-belief in my own ability to give birth, which I had the 2nd time. I felt a bit of a failure and had post natal depression after 1st baby. However, my 2nd time I was 40 years old and I did my labour only with gas & air & moving as much as possible. It was very empowering. Antenatal classes should not focus so much on pain relief (the negatives of birth) more time should be spent on helping women think positively about childbirth and training the mind to say 'I can do this!' I can't describe how much better it was doing it naturally, without painkillers. I wish a 'good birth' for every mother and child...
Andrea Holland, Norwich UK



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