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Why birth labour (labor) pain might be essential to infant survival.

Just an offering. Discomfort in labour may have a purpose.
Pain is nature's way of making sure the mother to be is awake and aware and in a safe place, to provide immediate protection, care and bonding on emergence from the womb. If it was painless e.g. during sleep, the infant could die from exposure, starvation or be taken by a predator. There's even the possibility the mother might not realise it's her baby, and ignore it. Some women who've given birth under general anaesthesia say, "I couldn't believe he/she was mine!"
Perhaps animals other than humans aren't even aware they are pregnant. An animal in pain will take refuge in a quiet safe area which is why a prolonged labour is advantageous, giving time to find such a place. Without this alert they could give birth instantly wherever they are and just carry on walking. The pain also concentrates attention on the relevant area where the infant will emerge.
If this offering has some truth it may give ideas for reconsidering the ambience of birthing rooms. eg. less open, not so bright lights, but also, if women have an idea why birth labour happens, that there's a point to it, it may make it easier to cope with.


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  • Mar 26 2013: I can understand the impulse to find an explanation for this extreme pain during a normal and natural activity.

    On the other hand, the human reproductive process is not one of the gems of the evolutionary process. It is fraught with all manner of risks. Until the advent of modern medicine, childbirth was one of the leading causes of death among women, and it is still risky. It is likely that the pain is a side effect of an imperfect system, and has no useful purpose.

    The best guess of another male.
    • Mar 26 2013: There wasn't a search for an explanation it was one of those click into place moments. I doubt it's an imperfection, it's something evolution has solved that civilsation perhaps doesn't need anymore. Without it a cat would just stop in the street and have its kittens. Think about it.
      • Mar 26 2013: Evolution has developed all manner of clever and complex behaviors that do not involve pain. If labor pain is an evolutionary "solution" it is a very clumsy solution, and will probably always remain a mystery.

        The pelvis area of humans changed quite a bit when we evolved upright, bipedal walking, and these changes might be part of the reason that women's reproductive functions have become so risky. Rather than an evolutionary solution, labor pain might be the downside of an evolutionary trade-off.
        • Mar 27 2013: Pain or discomfort may be the body's only way of deliberately waking someone up or making them alert and aware. It may be a unique instance of deliberately caused pain. Toothache doesn't count, it's caused by circumstance.We've had several queen cats over the years and they all let us know birth was imminent by persistent attention seeking and a mewing/purring sound peculiar to being in labour, prompting us to put a basket on a safe high shelf where they'd happily give birth.
        • Mar 31 2013: Good point. The human body is full of examples where pain is not useful and non-pain where it could have been helpful. Chronic pain and phantom pain for one example and pain asymbolia on the other.
          I have seen better designed creatures give birth (sea lions) and it does not seem to be much of an issue to them. I don't know for sure but I do think I can recognize distress when it occurs.
          If you were an animal living in lion country, then being disabled by pain during child birth might not be considered much of an evolutionary force.
        • Mar 31 2013: Perhaps labour pain isn't just a pain. It seems to be a sequence, that first organises, or causes, a safe place for child emergence, then protection for the infant the moment it emerges from the safety of the womb.
          As I said earlier, do animals know they're pregnant especially if it's a first birth? Perhaps labour pain it isn't as much of an issue for animals because they don't spend the prior time worrying about what is to come or what it will be like.
          From what I remember of nature programs sea lions collect on land or an ice floe to give birth, (saftey in numbers?).
          You've set me off thinking about pain now. Pain isn't just pain, it has varying levels. There's internal pain from an injury but I also see pain as nature's teaching tool for the young including smacking (I shall await the brickbats for that!). Children can have, "That'll teach him, he won't do that again!" accidents which, if they happened to an adult, could severely maim or kill, all of which are preparation for adult life.
          Pain also teaches us to rest an injury hence the seeking of somewhere protective whilst recovery can take place.
          For me, nature has solved problems we wouldn't realise existed or that we don't even realise exist.
          We didn't lose our animall nature the day we invented the first wheel and set it on fire.

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