It would appear that time does indeed numb pain – or at least the memory of it. Research has shown that for some women, the memory of the intensity of labour pain declines over time.
The study also shows that the memory of childbirth pain is influenced by a woman's overall satisfaction with her labour experience.
Dr Ulla Waldenström, from the Department of Woman and Child Health at the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm and colleagues queried 1383 mothers about their memories of labour pain at two months, one year and five years after giving birth. Women who elected to have a caesarean section were excluded.
Five years after the women had given birth, 49%t remembered childbirth as less painful than when they rated it two months after birth, 35% rated it the same, and 16% rated it as more painful.
Positive moms had low pain scores
"A commonly held view," Waldenström noted, "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% of women."
However, a woman's labour experience was an influential factor. Women who reported labour as a positive experience two months after childbirth had the lowest pain scores, and their memory of the intensity of pain had declined by one year and five years after giving birth.
"Memory of labour pain declined during the observation period but not in women with a negative overall experience of childbirth," the team notes in the journal BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
Roughly 60% of women reported positive childbirth experiences and less than 10 % reported negative experiences. For women who said that their childbirth experience was negative or very negative, on average, their assessment of labour pain did not change after five years.
"A woman's long-term memory of pain is associated with her satisfaction with childbirth overall," Waldenström 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 five years earlier."
The researchers also found that women who had epidural for pain 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.
Waldenström and colleagues suggest that healthcare professionals take into account a woman's overall experience with childbirth when assessing whether a woman needs further support after she delivers her baby. – (Reuters Health, March 2009)