Women's experiences of coping with pain during childbirth: A critical review of qualitative research

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Objective: to identify and analyse qualitative literature exploring women[U+05F3]s experiences of coping with pain during childbirth. Design: critical review of qualitative research. Findings: ten studies were included, conducted in Australia, England, Finland, Iceland, Indonesia, Iran and Sweden. Eight of the studies employed a phenomenological perspective with the remaining two without a specific qualitative methodological perspective. Thematic analysis was used as the approach for synthesising the data in this review. Two main themes emerged as the most significant influences upon a woman[U+05F3]s ability to cope with pain: (i) the importance of individualised, continuous support and (ii) an acceptance of pain during childbirth. This review found that women felt vulnerable during childbirth and valued the relationships they had with health professionals. Many of the women perceived childbirth pain as challenging, however, they described the inherent paradox for the need for pain to birth their child. This allowed them to embrace the pain subsequently enhancing their coping ability. Key conclusions: women[U+05F3]s experience of coping with pain during childbirth is complex and multifaceted. Many women felt the need for effective support throughout childbirth and described the potential implications where this support failed to be provided. Feeling safe through the concept of continuous support was a key element of care to enhance the coping ability and avoid feelings of loneliness and fear. A positive outlook and acceptance of pain was acknowledged by many of the women, demonstrating the beneficial implications for coping ability. These findings were consistent despite the socio-economic, cultural and contextual differences observed within the studies suggesting that experiences of coping with pain during childbirth are universal. Implications for practice: the findings suggest there is a dissonance between what women want in order to enhance their ability to cope with pain and the reality of clinical practice. This review found women would like health professionals to maintain a continuous presence throughout childbirth and support a social model of care that promotes continuity of care and an increasing acceptance of pain as part of normal childbirth. It is suggested future research regarding the role of antenatal provision for instilling such a viewpoint in preparation of birth be undertaken to inform policy makers. The need for a shift in societal norms is also suggested to disseminate expectations and positive or negative views of what the role of pain during childbirth should be to empower women to cope with childbirth and embrace this transition to motherhood as part of a normal process.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349-358
Number of pages10
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2015


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