I hear you scoffing already – what does a MAN know about pain in comparison to childbirth? But the list of agonies I am about to deliver have not come from me, but from mums and scientists. Honest!
I am lucky enough not to have experienced most of these pains – and I have definitely never given birth to a child – but after taking to social media, parenting forums and looking into scientific studies, there were certain ailments that cropped up again and again as being worse than labour.
While it is important to add that the pain of childbirth is impossible to calculate, given that it is different for every woman based on a huge amount of factors, here are 13 things that will make you wince and that are said to be way more painful than delivering a sprog.
Pain psychologist Beth Darnell Ph.D said to Men’s Health: ‘One person’s kidney stones could be as severe as another person’s childbirth.’ The subsequent investigation carried out saw a woman answer the question over which she had found worse reply: ‘Kidney stones, absolutely. But labour was a bitch, too.’
Mumsnet member Rose P confirmed: ‘Gallstones and kidney stones are worse.’
Describing the pain of a kidney stone, Reddit user contentment81 shared: ‘The first time I had them, I didn’t know what they were which added sheer terror to the absolute physical anguish. It felt like someone took a white hot poker and was sliding it in and out of my side, every once in a while tapping the end with a mallet for good measure. The pain was so bad I not only lost vision, I lost hearing, I lost the ability to process time and space. I found a position that felt like I was dying less slowly than others, which as it turns out was the floor of the emergency room.
‘I was wailing like a wounded dog, clutching the carpet with my fingers and toes. I was drooling everywhere and couldn’t speak coherently. They pushed morphine and – I kid you not – the morphine only brought the pain down just barely enough that I could explain what was wrong, while I screamed. Then they pushed something else, and that’s all I remember.’
Ouch. No epidural or gas and air for that…
Another person claimed that they would ‘give birth ten times over rather than go through the pain of a water infection again’
Adding that she was ‘crawling on the floor and crying’, she explained that she was eight months pregnant at the time which, of course, wouldn’t have helped.
This one cropped up a number of times, with a Mumsnet member saying: ‘I cope well with most things (even though I consider myself a wimp) but I would choose childbirth over toothache ANY DAY. I didn’t have the easiest of births, either.’
The dullness and the fact that is constant is said to be the main factor in why toothache is considered one of the worst pains a human has to endure.
Speaking to female colleagues, some believed that the pain of their broken toe or leg at least matched the agony of birth, but the one that came up online most were broken ribs – due to the fact that the act of breathing brought on waves of nauseating pain.
‘Broken ribs,deffo rather give birth,’ stated Twitter user kirstyl.
A pus-filled growth in the bum basically. This can be from the size of a small boil to the size of a decent piece of fruit and can leave people in absolute agony – to the point where they can barely move and most certainly can’t sit.
Mum Connie G said of the perianal abscess she endured: ‘The most excruciating thing EVER. I’ve had two children (one forceps after a 29 hour labour and a third degree tear) and nothing comes close to incision and drainage of them. Bleurgh.’
In particular, a mum told me of stitches that split after a hip operation because of a sneeze far outweighed her labour pains.
Breaking the stitches can also be a common aftermath of labour which is more painful than passing the human through the tight gap. One Facebook user said: ‘Oh, broken stitches! Definitely worse than the actual childbirth.’
Michelle W said of migraines: ‘I get migranes and most I can handle but on a few occasions it has been worse than labour for me and when my back goes into spasm.’
Like childbirth, migraines can have a range of severity, with some being so agonising that patients have fainted or been admitted to hospital.
According to a US survey, over two thirds of gout sufferers deemed the pain as the worst imaginable. And gout sufferer Martin Kettle wrote in The Guardian that his female GP, a mother of four, confirmed that ‘gout was indeed a worse pain than childbirth.’
An intense gout attack can leave sufferers writhing in agony and unable to even let a bedsheet touch the affected area (most commonly the big toe). Walking or wearing a sock or shoe is most definitely out of the question. Having personally suffered this one, I can add my personal account that, while I’ve never had a baby, gout is by far the worst pain I have endured.
Known more commonly as Fothergill’s Disease, this is the inflammation of a nerve stretching from the head to the jaw.
Dr Darnell explained: ‘This is a very exquisite type of pain. That kind of pain where you feel like a knife is stabbing in. Treatment options are limited. There is no epidural coming. There are people who have suicidal ideation or who do commit suicide because of it.’
Burns specialist Dr Christo explained to Men’s Health: ‘It’s comparable to labour pain. The post burn care process is gruelling because it requires wound debridements, dressing changes, skin grafting, and skin stretching.’
He added that due to the ongoing and excruciating nature of a burn, that this is not just limited to the most serious cases of third degree burns but burns in general.
Originating in the anus, this pain can be excruciating and the cause can be as simple as sitting down at a bad angle or falling to the ground. It can affect men more due to the fact that the pain often passes into the penis causing constant discomfort.
It has been described medically as an ‘insidious constant penis pain.’ Which just makes you squirm, doesn’t it?
Often described as the ‘worst possible pain’, these intense and focused waves of agony tend to affect one side of the head, usually behind the eyes.
Dr Christo said: ‘It’s probably the worse pain imaginable. I’ve had patients say it’s worse than labour pain or burns.’
Clitoral hood cyst
Ask any woman if they’d rather endure labour or have a CYST UNDER THE CLITORIS, then I am confident that 100% would choose the former.
One mum told BabyCenter: ‘Imagine your most sensitive ladybits being swollen, throbbing and with no form of relief. I couldn’t walk, sit stand…nothing. I wanted to die.’
Other mums reasoned that the fact that childbirth is a beautiful experience as well as a painful one and that the outcome is holding your own child in your arms, that pointless agonies such as toothaches, broken bones and CLITORIS LUMPS seem all that more worse.
Another argued that a woman’s body was designed to give birth and claimed on Mumsnet that labour was akin to a heavy gym workout. You can imagine how that claim went down.
You may also notice that I deliberately left out the ‘kick to the balls is worse’ argument. That’s one for another day.
MORE: Why non punishment discipline is the best way to bring up your children
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Not What I Expected
When we asked new moms to describe what labor felt like, we received almost 500 responses. In the course of describing labor pain, your answers hit on many similar themes -- how the experience compared with your expectations, what pushing was like, and whether you'd recommend an epidural. We culled through the responses to pick some of the most common themes.
As a first-time mom, I had a difficult time deciding if I was in labor or if I was having Braxton Hicks contractions. My symptoms did not fit into either category. I had a lot of cramping under my belly, not radiating from the top down or in my back like the books said. When I finally went in to the hospital to be checked, sure I would be sent home, I was told that I was actually in labor.
Tamara, St. Louis Park, MN
With both my babies I didn't experience normal contractions. Instead I felt like I was having one long contraction that felt like the worst menstrual cramps I had ever had.
Rebecca, Layton, UT
I was told it would feel like very bad menstrual cramps but that's not what it felt like to me. It was much more intense and it was almost all in my lower back. Every time a contraction would come, my lower back would slowly begin to seize up. It was kind of like the muscles inside were slowly twisting harder and harder until it became almost unbearable, and then it would slowly subside. It was still much more painful than I had imagined it would be.
Angelina, Ellicott City, MD
A Tug of War
Over and over again, many of our respondents used similar images to describe labor pain: intense menstrual cramps combined with internal twisting.
To me, labor felt like the worst menstrual cramp or gas pain that you've ever had, combined with someone stabbing you in the stomach! It would subside and come back until the beautiful epidural lady came to save me.
Rebecca, Indianapolis, IN
The pain is like having your insides twisted, pulled, and squeezed. If I fought it, the pain became worse. Once I surrendered to and accepted the pain, it was more bearable. It is like getting caught in the undertow of a wave. Being trapped under water is scary -- you can fight it and get more scared or you can just let go and wait until the wave releases you. Also, there was an intense searing pain in my lower back, which was helped when my husband applied pressure to it.
Tommasina, Canton, GA
I would consider labor pains as menstrual cramps multiplied by a million. It feels like your abdomen is trying to squeeze out all its contents, not just the baby. They come in waves and varying intensity throughout the laboring process. I would go from a pretty tolerable one to an extremely intense one the next time. I have a pretty high tolerance for pain and it is definitely the hardest thing I have ever done.
Amanda, Reading, MA
The best description I can offer of how the pain actually felt was like a deep internal "pulling" -- like someone kept reaching up deep inside me, grabbing hold of whatever internal organs they could, and trying to tug them out.
Jennifer, Olympia, WA
My labor pain felt like my hips were being pulled apart!
Nancy, Pico Rivera, CA
It's Not That Bad
While the vast majority of our respondents found labor extremely painful, some women were pleasantly surprised to find it easier than they had imagined.
My labor was wonderful. I went in for my 36th week visit and the midwife was checking to see if I was dilated. She got a funny look on her face and told me I was five centimeters dilated and 90 percent effaced! I went to the hospital, got an epidural, and four hours later had a baby girl virtually pain free.
Jamie, Canton, GA
Labor wasn't as scary as I thought it would be. I was in labor for 16 hours, and it seemed to fly by. And it all got much easier once the epidural kicked in.
Carmen, Hendersonville, NC
There is pain and labor does hurt, but it was not as bad as television shows or family and friends made it out to be. To me, it felt like a menstrual pain that was more painful than normal but not excruciating. Actually, the worst part was how a contraction would kick in whenever the nurse put the baby monitor on my stomach!
Beth, Georgetown, MA
Labor pain was not that bad. It feels like cramping when you get your period, just a little more intense. And the pushing is a relief. Once you hold the baby you forget all about the pain you were in.
Shannon, Corfu, NY
Once My Water Broke...
A handful of women mentioned that that the pain didn't escalate until their water broke.
After my water broke is when the real pain started. It was more of a tightening that got worse and worse until it peaked, then dropped off. If I could have had this particular pain once an hour or even once every 15 minutes, I'd have been able to tolerate it. But the fact that just as soon as you get through one contraction another is coming, that's what wears you down.
Valerie, Clawson, MI
I didn't have much pain until my water broke. The pain was so bad that in the middle of one contraction I imagined that I walked away from my body. I tried to picture myself walking on the beach. Of course, that didn't work and my next thought was of the epidural.
Andrea, Trenton, NJ
At first it was not so bad but after my water broke, the contractions were horrible. It felt like someone had taken hold of my insides and were wringing them out like a wet dishrag.
Theresa, Youngstown, OH
Thank God for Epidurals!
It appears that the majority of moms who participated in our survey opted for an epidural -- and were happy they did.
Labor pains were worse than anything my imagination could have drummed up! After eight hours of labor pains I opted for the epidural. I had immediate relief.
Michele, Chesapeake, VA
Labor pain for me was like really bad menstrual cramps. The breathing I learned in class helped, but it was hard to concentrate because of the pain. Thank God for the epidural -- from someone who was not sure if she was going to get it when she first went to the hospital!
Barbara, Fort Walton Beach, FL
It's definitely one of the worst pains I have ever felt! The best way I can think to describe it is to say that it felt like my stomach was getting an extremely bad cramp -- like a charley horse, but in my stomach! The pain was really bad, but I'm not afraid to go through labor again.
Karen, Shelby Township, MI
Some moms went with unmedicated childbirth and managed their pain in other ways.
I have three kids and each experience was different, as it is from woman to woman. I've had IV drugs, an epidural, and nothing. I honestly preferred nothing.
Jennifer, Hatfield, AK
My first child was born while I was under the influence of a walking epidural. I did not find that this really relieved my pain but rather made my labor feel like a nasty stomach virus. I swore I would never have anesthesia again because of how awful I felt afterwards. My second baby was born naturally. I found this labor to be much easier to cope with. The pain was very intense, but it was a clean pain almost like a sports injury. Pushing was more difficult. It felt like my whole pelvis was made of breaking glass, but this passed very quickly and I felt terrific almost immediately after delivery. Jessica, Danby, VT
Labor pain was the most excruciating pain I ever felt. The good news is that in between contractions there is no pain, and the contractions only last about a minute. I had four children with no pain medication.
Cindy, Vestal, NY
I didn't use an epidural or any pain medication. I kept my eyes closed and concentrated on my husband's voice and hummed through the contractions. It was the most empowering thing I've ever done. I would do labor over again in a heartbeat; the nine months preceding it is the hard part.
Meredith, Bradenton, FL
Oh, the Pushing
Most moms said that by the time they got to the pushing stage the worst was over. Some, though, really didn't like to push and initially had a hard time figuring out how to push effectively.
The pain was intense and horrible for two hours while I pushed. It was mostly vaginal pressure that was so painful.
Cristina, Atlanta, GA
Labor was by far the hardest physical activity I have ever participated in. But once you get to the pushing stage and have that feeling that is similar to having a bowel movement, you are almost done. And you know that if you can just make it through the last little part, you will meet this wonderful little person you have dreamed about for so long!
Kari, Onalaska, WI
Of the pushing contractions, all I can say is that I knew I had to push. And it felt good to push! The only real pain I remember was when my son's head crowned. That burned!
Rachel, Avon, IN
Pushing was really easy, not painful at all.
Eileen, Glendale, CA
When I started active labor, I struggled to push correctly. I didn't understand what to do until my nurse told me to push like I was pooping. I thought she was crazy but once I recognized the right push, and where it felt like it was coming from, I delivered my daughter within a few minutes!
Tracy Fives, Lake Worth, FL
I hate to be so graphic, but it felt like I had to have a bowel movement in the worst way! That's the only way I can describe it! It also felt as if something was going to burst through my back; I had excruciating back pain. I think I felt everything in my back rather than in my pelvis.
Anna, Austin, TX
I'd Do It All Again
Even though most of the moms felt that giving birth was the hardest thing they'd ever done, they'd still do it all over again. That's what keeps the human race going!
Pushing was the worst. I could feel every stretch, pull, and tear. The burning was like no other. I remember feeling there was no way I could push the baby out, it won't fit. But once all was done, I was so happy to hold our precious baby. It was all worth it.
Sharon, Danbury, CT
The pain of my labor came in waves, where I could feel it begin, crest, and subside. During the crests, it was hard to remember to breathe, as it felt like my body was one big leg cramp, kind of like I was a towel being twisted and curled in half. But when it's all said and done and you're looking at your little joy, you know you'd go through it all again.
Kathy, Appleton, WI
Whenever I hear Johnny Cash's booming drawl singing "Burning Ring of Fire," I remember labor and delivery. The miracle of what it means to be a woman is that all that agony is worth the 8 pounds, 1 ounce of pure beauty and joy that you hold in your arms for the first moment.
Kate, New York, NY