Memory for Labor Pain: A Review of the Literature

Birth. 2000 Dec;27(4):244-53. doi: 10.1046/j.1523-536x.2000.00244.x.


Background: Women's ability and accuracy in recalling labor pain are widely debated, even though clinicians commonly use such retrospective information in their practice. The objectives of this paper are to review the literature to establish if labor pain is forgotten, if recall is accurate, factors that affect the accuracy of recall, and consequences of recall.

Methods: An electronic search of Medscape, Psychlit, Bath Information and Data Services, and CINAHL between 1990 and 1999 was undertaken using the key words "labor" and "labour," "pain," and "memory." Each key word produced thousands of hits, but the combination of all three was surprisingly unsuccessful. This review, therefore, used a manual and print search and a detailed knowledge of work in this and related fields.

Results: The literature was relatively limited, and many studies demonstrated methodological problems. Inductive and deductive analysis suggested that women do not completely forget labor pain, and recall is often vivid but not always entirely accurate.

Conclusions: Memories of labor pain can evoke intense negative reactions in a few women, but are more likely to give rise to positive consequences related to coping, self-efficacy, and self-esteem.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Labor, Obstetric / psychology*
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Mental Recall
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pregnancy
  • Self Concept
  • Self Efficacy