Labour pain

The pain associated with labour is a unique and complex phenomenon. Whilst typical experiences of pain tend to be associated with injury or disease, labour pain emerges during a normal and highly positive event where increases in intensity are associated with normal labour progression. Due to the variation in both intensity and descriptions of the pain in Labor, the nature of labour pain is proven to be complex, and the experience of labour pain has determinants beyond those associated with the physiological state of the woman’s labouring body.

A growing body of literature exists that indicates psychosocial and environmental determinants of labour pain, and yet methods to support women usually target physiological attributes via pharmacological interventions.

  • 77% of women giving birth in Australia use pharmacological intervention for pain relief during labour
    • including regional analgesics (33%) and,
    • systemic opioids (20%)

While epidural analgesics are recognised to be effective in managing pain, paradoxically they are not associated with more positive labour experiences in women. Compared to non-pharmacological methods of pain management, pharmacological methods are associated with less favourable clinical outcomes, including a higher rate of instrumental births, neonatal admission to special care, and decreased duration of breastfeeding.

Overall, it is clear that current approaches to supporting women to manage labour pain do not always promote physiological birth, can diminish women’s experiences of labour and birth, and can have adverse effects on their babies’ health. Thus, there is an urgent need to reconsider labour pain; including the way in which it is conceptualised, communicated, and managed.


  • researchers from Monash University
  • Mercy Hospital for Women
  • The Royal Women’s Hospital
  • La Trobe University

Team members

Group leader: Dr Laura Whitburn