Busting Birth Myths: Dels of Pain

Woman screaming in labor

delsI see it all the time. Friends and family share it with me, fellow birth professionals share it on their pages, people text it to my clients who ask me about it.

And it drives me crazy!

Here’s what I’m talking about:

“A Human body can bear only up to 45 del (units) of pain. Yet at time of giving birth, a mother feels up to 57 Del (units) of pain. This is similar to 20 bones getting fractured at the same time.”

So let me break this down.

First, if the “human body” can only bear 45 dels, and laboring women feel more than that, does that mean mothers are not human? Last time I checked, women were human beings. That means their bodies *are* “human bodies” – so clearly human bodies CAN bear more than whatever this mythical limit is. Unless, of course, you’re sexist enough that you think men are the default humans and women are the anomaly.

Second, there is no such thing as a unit of pain. Certainly nothing called a “del” as claimed here. Pain is very subjective, and simply cannot be measured. Back in the 1940s, some researchers named Hardy, Woolf and Goodell proposed a pain unit called the “dol” but even that scale only went from one to ten, nowhere near the numbers claimed in the myth. Hardy went on to do some experiments where he (quite literally) burned women’s hands in between labor contractions trying to get them to quantify the level of pain they were feeling.

But because pain is so subjective and the scale did little to distinguish pain from other intense sensation, the dol was never actually used outside of research studies and has never been considered a valid measurement of pain.

If you’d like to read more about Hardy’s attempts to develop a unit for pain, this article is a good place to start.

So can we PLEASE stop spreading this myth?

(Steps off soapbox)

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