8 Experiences That Hurt More Than Giving Birth

There is one thing that almost every pregnant woman believes: Childbirth is the worst pain you could ever feel. You don’t have to look too far to find out why. Television shows about labor and birth are quick to highlight images of women in labor writhing in pain. And almost every pain you can imagine is compared to the pain of childbirth.

However, there are some things that women who have experienced both say hurt more than giving birth. Everyone experiences pain differently, so what might be more painful for one person may not be for another.

Things that can hurt more than childbirth
Illustration by JR Bee, Verywell

Broken Bones

Breaking a bone is painful. While not all broken bones are the same, some, like a compound fracture of a femur, will knock you off your feet for some time. In addition to needing to wear a large cast for a long period of time, compound fractures may also require surgery to place hardware, like pins and screws, into your body.

The location of the break and how you use that part of the body can also determine how painful it is. A broken rib might ache every time you take a breath, whereas a pinky-finger fracture might be fairly well stabilized and not as painful once it's in a splint or cast.

Some broken bones require weeks or months of treatment and years of residual pain. Childbirth, on the other hand, only lasts several hours, and even very long labor rarely lasts more than a weekend.


Certain Headaches

Headaches can be severe—beyond the typical ones where you pop an over-the-counter pain pill and continue about your day. Migraine headaches are huge sources of pain for some and can last for hours or days with debilitating symptoms like:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Light sensitivity
  • Visual disturbances

Many people with migraines wind up taking prescription pain medication to both prevent and treat these symptoms. Another type of headache is said to be even worse. Cluster headaches cause extreme pain around the eye socket, can last for hours, and reoccur daily.

Sufferers have described cluster headaches as feeling as though you are giving birth through your eyeball, but without the prize of a baby when you are done.


Kidney Stones

Kidney stones form in your urinary tract and have to be passed. This means that the stone, either whole or broken into bits, will need to come out. Kidney stones usually pass through the urinary tract and exit the body through the urethra. Some stones require surgery. Symptoms of kidney stones can include:

  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Back pain
  • Constant urge to urinate
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Women who have experienced both kidney stones and childbirth say passing a stone is worse than childbirth. After all, the body is not designed to pass kidney stones, but it is made to birth a baby.



Gallstones are small stones in the gallbladder that can cause quite a bit of pain. While there are pain medications and nutritional guidelines to help manage these, gallstones can plague you for a long time or come in waves of attacks. These attacks frequently include symptoms like:

  • Unremitting pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Back pain
  • Fever

While some gallbladder attacks can be dealt with by simply prescribing pain medication and a new diet, after a while there may be a need for surgery to remove the gallbladder itself.

Women who have had gallstones and also given birth say gallstones were much worse.


Bladder Infections and Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)

Bladder infections and urinary tract infections (UTI) can cause a lot of pain, including:

  • Burning
  • Frequent urge to urinate
  • Back pain or lower abdomen and sides
  • Blood in urine
  • Fever

Severe UTIs and those that involve infections of the bladder and/or kidneys are very painful, and sometimes women also get these infections during pregnancy.


Root Canals

Many people compare the pain of childbirth with the pain of dental work. A root canal, for example, is a painful procedure: A hole is drilled inside the tooth and the nerve underneath the tooth is removed from the root. A filling is used to fill the tooth back up, and the pain stops because the nerve has been removed.

The pain of a root canal starts before the procedure with a toothache that can last a while before getting in to see the dentist. While the intense pain involved does stop once the root is removed, there is residual soreness.

The aftermath of the root canal can affect your daily activities for a couple of days, make it difficult to eat, and require pain medication. Women who have needed root canal say it is worse than childbirth.



Surgery is obviously painful, though some surgeries are more involved than others. Cutting tissue, muscles, or organs, or moving internal structures to get to the part of the body that requires surgery will leave a person in pain for days and weeks afterward.

Heart surgery, for example, requires the sternum to be cracked and removed to get to the heart. The pain from this can last for weeks and maybe months, often requiring therapy to help manage.

Surgeries that involve the use of laparoscopy are less painful than surgeries where a larger incision is made. While both have elements of pain, some may last longer depending on the type of surgery, the location of the incision or surgery, and the health of the individual. Needless to say, recovery from surgery can be more painful than childbirth.


Induced Labor

It would be remiss not to mention that induced labor is a source of pain that can be potentially worse than your standard spontaneous labor. This is because your body is quickly thrown into labor using medicine, rather than through a slow build up.

Other means may be required to mitigate the risks of the induction method used. These interventions can add to the pain, either because of the actual procedure, restrictive movement or by inducing fear, which can increase the pain.

Talk to your practitioner and choose interventions that can alleviate these side effects.

Pain During Labor

While a handful of things might hurt worse than labor, the significance of the pain caused by giving birth should not be minimized. And though labor can be a painful process, certain things can contribute to or increase the discomfort felt.

  • Anxiety – fear or anxiety during childbirth can increase pain. Anxiety can cause muscles to tense and constrict blood flow. Adrenaline is also released, which makes it difficult to relax.
  • Birthing position – studies and empirical evidence show that some birthing positions cause more discomfort than others. Lying on your back can cause labor to last longer and increase pain. Standing, squatting, and other vertical positions allow gravity to assist by putting pressure on the cervical opening and helping the baby to pass, whereas lying on your back could cause the baby to press more towards your spine than your pelvis.
  • Fetal position — ideally, babies will be head down and facing the back during labor. This position is the most comfortable and efficient for delivery. However, not all babies rotate completely prior to the onset of labor. If the baby is head down but facing your belly, called posterior positioning or sunny side up, or if the baby's buttocks are positioned first in the birth canal, called breech positioning, pain can be increased, and there could be complications. Babies can also be positioned so that one shoulder or one foot present first in the birth canal.

Methods for Coping With Labor

The good news is that there are a lot of ways to cope with pain during labor. There aren’t any wrong or right choices, just personal ones. Methods include:

Remember, you learn more pain-fighting techniques during childbirth class than exist for broken bones. Combat fear of pain during labor by taking a childbirth preparation class, so you can learn techniques to use during labor and practice them.

A Word From Verywell

The next time you find yourself thinking that childbirth is the most painful thing you can go through, stop and try to retrain your brain. Tell yourself that the pain experienced in labor is only temporary, typically does not last for days, and is intermittent. Labor is more predictable than a gallstone or kidney stone, and the outcome is usually much happier.

9 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Tutton E, Achten J, Lamb SE, Willett K, Costa ML. A qualitative study of patient experience of an open fracture of the lower limb during acute careBone Joint J. 2018;100-B(4):522‐526. doi:10.1302/0301-620X.100B4.BJJ-2017-0891.R1

  2. Bonavita V, De Simone R, Ranieri A. Pain cognition in migraine: from basic neurophysiology to a behavioral paradigmNeurol Sci. 2018;39(Suppl 1):3‐9. doi:10.1007/s10072-018-3335-0

  3. May A, Schwedt TJ, Magis D, Pozo-Rosich P, Evers S, Wang SJ. Cluster headacheNat Rev Dis Primers. 2018;4:18006. doi:10.1038/nrdp.2018.6

  4. Fontenelle LF, Sarti TD. Kidney Stones: Treatment and PreventionAm Fam Physician. 2019;99(8):490‐496.

  5. Shabanzadeh DM. Incidence of gallstone disease and complicationsCurr Opin Gastroenterol. 2018;34(2):81‐89. doi:10.1097/MOG.0000000000000418

  6. McKibben MJ, Seed P, Ross SS, Borawski KM. Urinary Tract Infection and Neurogenic BladderUrol Clin North Am. 2015;42(4):527‐536. doi:10.1016/j.ucl.2015.05.006

  7. Sun C, Sun J, Tan M, Hu B, Gao X, Song J. Pain after root canal treatment with different instruments: A systematic review and meta-analysisOral Dis. 2018;24(6):908‐919. doi:10.1111/odi.12854

  8. Gerbershagen HJ, Aduckathil S, van Wijck AJ, Peelen LM, Kalkman CJ, Meissner W. Pain Intensity on the First Day after Surgery: A Prospective Cohort Study Comparing 179 Surgical Procedures. Anesthesiology. 2013;118(4):934‐944. doi:10.1097/ALN.0b013e31828866b3

  9. Kozhimannil KB, Johnson PJ, Attanasio LB, Gjerdingen DK, McGovern PM. Use of Nonmedical Methods of Labor Induction and Pain Management Among U.S. Women. Birth. 2013;40(4):227‐236. doi:10.1111/birt.12064

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.