Menstrual Cramps/Labor Pains Connection?
February 20, 2009 8:54 AM   Subscribe

Is there a correlation between how painful/strong your menstrual cramps usually are and how painful/strong your labor contractions will be/were?

My pregnant sister always had extremely painful menstrual cramps accompanied by vomiting, diarrhea and cramping of the extremities (feet, arms, hands, calves, etc.). We're wondering if this is somehow going to be a predictor to how her labor will go.
Do painful cramps mean you have a stronger uterus?
I, on the other hand, have never had any type of menstrual cramping at all, does this mean my uterus is weak? (FYI, I also have a tipped uterus). You would think that the way your uterus contracts during menstrual cramps would be similar (albeit on a much smaller scale) to how it contracts while giving birth.
posted by RingerChopChop to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
As an anecdote, I have always had horrible cramps, usually missing a day or two a month of work/school (plus I pass out - yay me). I always wanted children so after I got my period and saw what cramps were like I deceided I would have to adopt.

Well, I have had four children now, all natural, born at home with no painkillers. I do not find labour/birth painful (but I will admit my last one was uncomfortable mainly because it was so fast - less than an hour). I have pushed my children out pretty fast (I think it has been two pushes for the last three) and was able to get up almost immediately.

It seemed logical to me that menstrual cramps would indicate what labour cramps would be like but at least in my case, the experiences couldn't be more different. I would happily spend the next ten years continually pregnant if I could avoid the pain of menstruating.
posted by saucysault at 9:04 AM on February 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh sweet jesus I hope not. My sisters and I all get really severe menstrual cramping and I asked my physician-mother the same thing and she said "no, not necessarily", but she could have been lying to make me feel better about it.
posted by gwenlister at 9:05 AM on February 20, 2009

I don't think there's much correlation. Granted, my labor was pitocin-induced, so my contractions were probably worse than if they had occurred naturally, but my cramps haven't been all that bad. Usually a day of tylenol and then everything's fine. Interestinly, though, my first period post-partum was almost cramp-free.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:10 AM on February 20, 2009

I almost NEVER EVER had cramps, or if I did very little, and my labor was awful - bloody from the beginning, long, drawn out, failed to progress, hurt through the epidural, writhing in agony on the table unable to lie still while they started the C-section and ultimately had to have a hysterectomy a couple hours later.

So, my anectodal evidence is: no connection at all.

(P.S. I was not induced.)

I think your fitness level prior to and during pregnancy, preparation, position and size of baby, pelvic floor shape and strength, etc. have MUCH more to do with it.
posted by bunnycup at 9:44 AM on February 20, 2009

I've never heard of any connection between menstrual cramps and labor pain. I think bunnycup is right- the size and position of the baby, the size and shape of your pelvis, and your fitness level are all factors.

My anecdotal data: I've never been much troubled with cramps. My labor was extremely fast. So fast, in fact, that we did not get to the hospital in time. My son was delivered by the local fire department on our bathroom floor. No drugs, obviously.

We had moved further from the hospital shortly before my due date. My OB/GYN reassured me "first labors last an average of twelve hours. You'll have PLENTY of time to get here." Yeah, right. Mine lasted less than three hours, start to finish.
posted by ambrosia at 9:58 AM on February 20, 2009

I have never had a menstrual cramp. When pregnant, I was young and fit, walking 2 miles up hill to work everyday, and labor was so bad I wanted a meteor to come out of the sky and crush me. So I have thought there might be a reverse correlation. Also, I have a tilted uterus.
posted by cda at 9:59 AM on February 20, 2009

hmmmm.....the way i've described my labor pains to friends/family was "really bad menstrual cramps" but that's just the easiest analog, kwim? that doesn't mean that a history of debilitating cramps means you will automatically have a torturous labor. but being afraid of the pain of labor might make you tense and THAT could cause you to perceive the labor as even more painful.

fear => tension => pain => more fear => more tension => more pain
it's like some sort of negative feedback loop. the idea was presented in our childbirth class, i forget who actually came up with it.

and my personal data points: generally mild menstrual cramps in the past -- labor was intense, but bearable. fwiw, i showed up at the hospital dilated to 9 cm and baby was out within an hour after we got there. natural and medication-free
posted by fancyoats at 10:12 AM on February 20, 2009

No. There is no correlation one way or the other between labor pains and intensity of menstrual cramping. I've discussed this with several other mom-friends before.
Ease/difficulty of labor is more luck-of-the-draw (with a number of factors) than anything else, although as people have pointed out, fitness makes a difference. (Even with a c-section, being in shape will help you through recovery.)

Also, a tipped uterus doesn't matter for labor; they all "straighten out" during pregnancy, making the playing ground equal. (A tipped uterus is something to take into account when trying to GET pregnant, though.)
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 10:48 AM on February 20, 2009

I always heard that the worse your cramps were, the easier labor would be. Because, you know, your uterus is "in shape" from all that cramping.

Who knows. I never experienced a single contraction with my triplets, but I guess that's okay since I have pretty mild menstrual cramps. Heh.
posted by pyjammy at 11:44 AM on February 20, 2009

Anecdotal Story: I never had bad menstrual cramps. But my first labor (not induced) was so horrendously painful that at one point I was strongly considering slamming my head against the bathroom counter in an attempt to knock myself out. (I wanted an epidural, but they wouldn’t give me one at that point.) After the delivery I said, “Okay, I’m never doing that again.” And I’m serious; that was 5 years ago, and I'm just as committed now as I was then not going through Labor and Delivery again.....not that I necessarily think he would hurt the same, but going through it again I would be so terrified that I'm certain I would get caught up the loop that fancyoats described.

Anywho, when I went into labor I was not really effaced or dilated at all, and my cervix was still pointing in the wrong direction. That probably had a lot to do with it.
posted by texas_blissful at 11:49 AM on February 20, 2009

It sounds like your sister has endometriosis.

Pain in labor can often be relieved by changing position and by relaxation techniques. I recommend Hypnobabies. They have a self-study course.
posted by daisydaisy at 1:29 PM on February 20, 2009

I can't speak to the labor pains having experience them, but I know far more than I 'd like to about endometriosis pain, and I agree with daisydaisy that your sister may have it. That's something she should seriously talk to her doctor about (or at least do some research) if she hasn't already.
posted by mostlymartha at 1:55 PM on February 20, 2009

You would think that the way your uterus contracts during menstrual cramps would be similar (albeit on a much smaller scale) to how it contracts while giving birth.

Um, I wouldn't. You know, as someone who's studied reproductive physiology. The biochemical pathways involved in labour vs in menstrual cramps aren't the same, the physiological processes involved aren't the same and the comment about a 'strong uterus' doesn't even make sense. What looks like common sense to a layperson generally, well, isn't.

Sure there's some overlap in the biological processes involved but the underlying causes are different and the physical conditions are very different (as in, there's a baby involved with one) and so one won't predict much about the other.
posted by shelleycat at 1:56 PM on February 20, 2009

Having never experienced them, obviously.
posted by mostlymartha at 1:58 PM on February 20, 2009

A woman I know had god-awful crippling cramps... until the birth of her first child. After than, smooth sailing. So take that one data point and look on the bright side.
BTW, she was a professional athlete, so it's not like poor core strength was the source of her cramps.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:11 PM on February 21, 2009

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