14 Moms on What Labor Really Feels Like

This article was originally featured on What to Expect, a pregnancy and parenting brand helping every parent know what to expect, every step of the way.

Chances are that from the minute you find out you're expecting, and likely for some time before, you've wondered what it will feel like when the time comes to welcome your baby. Not the part where you'll actually get to hold him or her in your arms, but the inevitable journey to that destination, which is of course labor. The fact of the matter—and something all women who've been through it will tell you—is that everyone's experience, physically and emotionally, is unique.

Nonetheless, knowing what labor felt like for other moms should only stand to inform, prepare, and empower those who have yet to take that leap. Here, 14 moms reveal the reality of labor.

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"Physically, labor feels like the worst gas pains you can ever imagine, followed by your butt feeling like it's going to explode or basically split open. The ring of fire is no joke—[it's] like the worst carpet burn you've ever gotten, times 10, in your vagina. The best feeling is that moment of relief after the baby comes out, and all the pressure is gone, and you are holding him or her and seeing them for the first time. Emotionally, you are all over the place. Your hormones are going crazy, because you are happy, scared, nervous, excited, or, like me, a little in shock that it's happening." — Sydney K., Arizona

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"For me, labor felt like increasingly bad period cramps. I remember being so clueless as to what a contraction would feel like, and then when they started I was like, 'Oh hey, I've been preparing for this my whole life!' Granted, they eventually reach a level of pain that is much much higher than a period. But it really does feel similar, especially when it's first starting out." — Ashley A., Nebraska

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"I was induced with both. First one, I had a non-working epidural, and it felt like I was being stabbed a million times with a dull knife from my butt to my stomach! With second and working epidural, labor felt like no big deal. Literally didn't feel anything. The worst part was getting my IV until it was time to push and I felt like my whole body was going to rip/explode but with no actual pain — just pressure, like a super inflated balloon." — Hillary C., California

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"You know that 'stitch' feeling you get in your side after working out too hard? It is that feeling — times 10, encompassing a circumference from the bottom of your rib cage to your tailbone. Pushing is hard if you don't know what you're doing. Imagine you're puking, then use those muscles to push." — Sandra B., Texas


"Contractions feel like waves. The discomfort gets worse and worse until it crests, then eases back down. Visualizing actual waves and then breathing through them helped me. Now, I had one induced with max doses of Pitocin and one totally [unmedicated]. No pain meds for either. On Pitocin, the waves crest and then smash into a wall, and while you're trying to recover, another one crests and smashes so you feel like drowning. [Unmedicated] labor is just riding on huge rolling waves. [Unmedicated] labor felt like a picnic, even with no pain meds, compared to that 'angry ocean' caused by Pitocin!" — Kelly D., Michigan

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"I had a failed epidural. It felt like my body was literally being torn in two directions. Blinding pain. I'm grateful I could feel what my body was telling me, though. The healing process was a quarter of what it took after a successful epidural delivery with my first. I'm planning on no epidural for the next delivery." — Jenny B., Kansas

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"I was induced with Pitocin, and all the horror stories I heard were dead wrong. I felt nothing for seven hours. Not a thing. Then for two hours after that, I felt noticeable tightening, but that was it. Broke water next, and things picked up, but it was never bad enough that I wanted an epidural. My recovery, even with a second-degree tear, wasn't awful." — Caitlin S., Indiana

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"With my second there wasn't time for an IV, let alone a chance of an epidural. I have never [had] such intense paralyzing pain in my life. I've never felt so out of control and terrified immediately followed by such an indescribable high when he was born." — Danielle J., Arizona

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"I actually found it so much easier to labor and deliver without the epidural. I pushed for four hours with my first and couldn't feel what was happening. With my second, I had a precipitous delivery, so there was no time for one. I panicked at that realization, but then I gave myself a mental pep talk and got into the zone. It was amazing when I felt and understood what was happening—like the pressure and ring of fire. Sure, the contractions were painful, but the delivery was amazing. For me, the pressure was the worst part, so being able to push through it was relieving." — Jenna D., Pennsylvania

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"Labor feels like a roller-coaster ride. Contractions cause tension that basically goes, 'Ouch . . . ow . . . ow . . . ow. OW. OW. OW. OWWWW.' Delivery, on the other hand, felt like one giant constipated poop. Single coolest feeling I've ever had was of my children dropped into the birth canal, then them being delivered. It hurt like hell, but it also made me feel insanely powerful." — Angela H., Texas

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11. "For me labor — or contractions, rather — was the feeling when you're about to have diarrhea. The pain in your back, the heat, the thought of the inevitable explosion, but 10 times more intense, but then there's no relief. I eventually got the drugs, which was the best thing!" — Briana H., Massachusetts

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"Back labor: like a sledgehammer blow to my lower spine —only sustained for about 30 seconds at a time." — Adriana V., New York

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"Emotionally, labor is like a series of bad surprise parties but at the end is the best surprise party ever — but you don't know when the best one is going to happen. Physically, the closest I can compare it to is a Quentin Tarantino movie." — Brie D., New Jersey

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"Labor with my first was intense. The contractions hurt, but the worst was the ring of fire. I kept telling myself that the pain was temporary and that mantra made it better." — Ashley P., South Carolina

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Giving Birth by Vaginal Delivery

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