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This is what your period pain can tell you about childbirth.

“The worse the period pain, the worse the labour,” a co-worker once told me when I was doubled over in menstrual cramp hell.

She thought it was all rather funny, a wimpish response to a monthly occurrence. I thought it was an old wives’ tale, waited for the pain to pass, and hoped that one day she would be fired.

That was 10 years ago, and I still think about that warning every time the searing pain of a cramp hits me. Was what my co-worker said all those years ago simply a cautionary tale, or was there actually something to it? Can our period pain really be a warning sign of what to expect when you’re expecting?

endometriosis personal story
The pain is real. Source: iStock.

According to Dr Dasha Fielder, the simple answer is yes — but the complicated answer is, well, more complicated.

"The initial stages of labour are very similar to periods," Fielder tells me during our eye-opening conversation.

"Except with periods the pain stays about the same, whereas with labour it continues to increase and get worse until the baby is born."

So for those who experience little to no pain during their periods, this is good news. But for people like me who need analgesics and heat packs on hand for six days a month, the verdict is not so great.

Listen: one mum went into labour in a ute and lived to tell the tale. Post continues.... 

The pain similarity, Fielder explains, comes from the cervix opening.

During the heaviest days of our period, the cervix will open up to around one centimetre to allow the uterine lining to pass. For some, this process draws no pain, but for others, it involves cramping and intense bursts of pain. During labour, though, the cervix needs to open to not just one centimetre, but up to around 10 for the baby to be born.

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"The initial stages of labour, when the cervix goes from around zero to five centimetres in diameter, are very, very similar to period cramps," Fielder reiterates.

"It tends to be in a cyclical fashion and the contractions come usually every half an hour or every 20 minutes, and it does feel exactly like period pain. I have tested it three times with my children, so I can tell you as a doctor and a mother it's exactly right."

The pain, Fielder says, comes from the many nerve fibres that are within the cervix.

Often, Fielder says, because of its similarity to period pain, women can be quite comfortable in the early stages of labour. Some won't even realise they are in labour at all.

are period pain and labour similar
Hey, look. It's your cervix in action. Source: Youtube.

"It's quite normal for women to not come into the hospital until they're about four or five centimetres dilated," Fielder says.

"But when they get to seven centimetres, that's when they reach what we call the transitional phase, and from there, if it hasn't been a problem already, the pain does become quite uncomfortable."

And while it's important to stress that no two women, or their birth experiences, or their periods for that matter, are the same, the point is they all relate to one another.

With that in mind, it's time for me to go and reassess my birth control situation and ensure that, should I ever fall pregnant, my partner knows my birth plan consists of lots and lots of drugs.

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