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Memory of Labor Pain Influenced by a Woman's Childbirth Experience

Posted Mar 13 2009 3:14pm

Memory of Labor Pain Influenced by a Woman's Childbirth Experience

By Megan Rauscher

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) Mar 11 - Research shows that for about half of women who give birth, memories of the intensity of labor pain decline over time. However, for some women, their recollection of pain does not seem to diminish and for a minority, their memory of pain increases with time.

The study also shows that the memory of childbirth pain is influenced by a woman's overall satisfaction with her labor experience.

Dr. Ulla Waldenstrm, from the Department of Woman and Child Health at the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, and colleagues queried 1383 mothers about their memories of labor pain at 2 months, 1 year and 5 years after giving birth. Women who underwent elective cesarean section were excluded.

Five years after the women had given birth, 49% remembered childbirth as less painful than when they rated it 2 months after birth, 35% rated it the same, and 16% rated it as more painful.

"A commonly held view," Dr. Waldenstrm noted in an email to Reuters Health, "is that women forget the intensity of labour pain. The present study...provides evidence that in modern obstetric care, this is true for about 50 percent of women."

However, a woman's labor experience was an influential factor. Women who reported labor as a positive experience 2 months after childbirth had the lowest pain scores, and their memory of the intensity of pain had declined by 1 year and 5 years after giving birth.

"Memory of labor pain declined during the observation period but not in women with a negative overall experience of childbirth," the team notes in the March issue of BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

Roughly 60% of women reported positive experiences and less than 10% had negative experiences. For women who said that their childbirth experience was negative or very negative, on average, their assessment of labor pain did not change after 5 years.

"A woman's long-term memory of pain is associated with her satisfaction with childbirth overall," Dr. Waldenstrm said, summing up. "The more positive the experience, the more women forget how painful labour was. For a small group of women with a negative birth experience, long-term memory of labour pain was as vivid as 5 years earlier."

The researchers also found that women who had epidural analgesia remembered pain as more intense than women who did not have an epidural, suggesting, they say, that these women remember "peak pain." However, their perception of how painful labour had been also declined with time.

Dr. Waldenstrm and colleagues suggest that healthcare professionals take into account a woman's overall experience with childbirth when assessing whether a woman needs further support postnatally.

BJOG 2009;116:577-583.

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