Is childbirth painful for newborns?

You know that labor and delivery is no walk in the park for us moms, but is childbirth painful for newborns? Being squeezed and pushed through a tiny space can’t feel too good, making me wonder if maybe moms who opt to deliver by cesarean section are better moms than I am.

A 2011 study published in Current Biology by the University College London indicated that most newborns start sensing pain between 35 to 37 weeks gestation. Using recordings of brain activity using EEG and routine heel incisions to collect blood samples for clinical use, research suggested the baby was experiencing pain. So, does this mean that labor and delivery cause newborns pain?

Just like me you’re probably looking for some concrete answers. But the frustrating fact is that doctors still aren’t sure. Although they acknowledge that babies are likely to feel pain, any discomfort during childbirth can be likened to the deep pressure of squeezing through a tight opening, and not necessarily pain.

Well, before you end up in a weepy heap on the floor, it’s important to remember that a newborn’s body is made specifically to fit through that small canal to the outside world. And the first thing leading your baby’s descent into the world is his or her big, but soft, noggin. You know how you’re not supposed to touch a newborn’s head because of the soft spots? Well, those pliable parts between the plates that make up your baby’s skull are meant to move and be squeezed. Although passage through the vaginal canal often results in a newborn’s conehead shape, its function is vital to getting your baby out of your womb and it usually returns to normal within a few days.

And, what about your baby’s ability to breathe both inside and outside the womb? A fetus’s lungs are filled with fluid and he gets oxygen through the placenta. But, once the umbilical cord is clamped and the oxygen supply is cut off, it doesn’t mean your baby is suffocating outside of your body. Through the process of spontaneous labor, SheKnows Expert Megan Davidson, Ph.D. explains that your baby’s lungs are more likely to be fully developed than with a planned Cesarean section. And, squeezing through the birth canal also helps the fluid in a newborn’s lungs to dry up and allows your baby’s lungs to kick into gear once he or she is born. So, listen for that precious first cry; it means your baby’s lungs are working like they’re supposed to.

So, although there is no concrete proof that childbirth isn’t painful for newborns, Dr. Davidson assures you that laboring and delivering vaginally is ideal for both you and your baby. It’s likely that the short discomfort babies feel during labor and delivery won’t scar them for life. And, unfortunately, even if they did discover that childbirth did suck for newborns, I’m sure the world would keep delivering them instead of opting to be sliced open. Natural childbirth is the way nature intended it. Painful or not.

Read more about labor and delivery

Forceps during delivery
How birth affects breastfeeding
Sleep deprivation can lead to preterm labor


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