Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Beta-Endorphins and Their Affects on Pain Perception in Labor

I have come across the most fascinating graph dealing with beta-endorphin levels at different times in a woman's life. I want to share it with you.

This made me think back to the "Is Labor About How Tough You Are?" post I wrote several weeks ago. Interestingly, we all agreed that labor is NOT about how tough you are.

I have previously mentioned that the body produces endorphins in labor -- when drugs do not interfere with the natural process -- to help a laboring woman "deal with" the intensity of labor. When an epidural is introduced, those endorphins are squelched. It used to be advised that women let the epidural wear off when it's time to push, but most women found this too difficult. (I was one of them with my epidural birth.) A big part of the problem is that her body is not producing those endorphins at an increasing rate to coincide with her labor. Being flat on her back is a pain-inducing position to a woman about to push her baby out, so it is a double-whammy!

Beta-Endorphin Changes During Pregnancy and Labor:

Non-pregnant: 58
First trimester: 58
Second trimester: 33 +/- 1.9
Third trimester: 49 +/- 2.7
Early labor (cx < 4 cm.): 202 +/- 32
Advanced labor (cx > 4 cm.): 389 +/- 78
Postpartum: 177 +/- 22
Awaiting cesarean birth (not in labor): 151 +/- 23

This, to me, is proof that our body knows what to do. "Pain tolerance" is a moot point when looking at these numbers.


Lena said...

That is really fascinating!

Sarah said...

Is this graph in one of the many books you're reading right now, or is it possibly on the web, where we can view/link to it? I'd love to see all the background info.

Very interesting. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Great information! Love it!! I know this is true I had the greatest home waterbirth with little pain...and I know how it CAN feel complete opposite:) If you wouldn't mind can I get the link to the study or source you used (for The Birthing Site)? Nicole@thebirthingsite.com

Donna Ryan said...

I came across this when I was getting my ICEA certification a few years ago. I'll track it down.

Unknown said...

Hello there! I am a birth educator as well as a birth doula and came across your blog regarding endorphin release this week. I share your fascination and was wondering if you ever tracked down the source? Please share it if possible! Thank you so much..