The truth about pregnancy and childbirth: survey results

We asked Mumsnetters to share their experiences of pregnancy and childbirth. The survey results reveal some of the highs and lows of being pregnant, and acknowledge both the extent and the uniqueness of the pain felt by women in labour. 

Nearly half (45%) of respondents said that men would never understand the pain of childbirth, and 42% described giving birth for the first time as the most painful experience of their life.

See the full survey results below.

Thinking about when you were pregnant with your first baby, which of the following best describes the best thing about being pregnant for the first time?

Answer options Response percent
The excitement about meeting my new child
Feeling my baby kicking and growing inside me - the start of our bonding
The excitement about opening a new chapter in my life
Feeling like I was giving a new purpose to my life
Seeing how my body changed and what it was capable of
Nothing was good about being pregnant for the first time
Looking forward to seeing my partner as a parent for the first time
Looking forward to a break from work
The kindness I was shown
Time off from worrying so much about my weight/limiting what I ate
Looking forward to seeing my parents as grandparents for the first time


And which of the following best describes the worst thing about being pregnant with your first baby?

Answer options Response percent
The physical toll - tiredness, weight gain, swollen limbs and other ailments
Constantly worrying that all was well with the pregnancy
Sickness/vomiting  18%
I was worried about the responsibility of becoming a parent and whether or not I'd be a good parent
I was worried about giving birth
Concerns about work and finances while on maternity leave/after having the baby
Nothing was bad about being pregnant for the first time
People issuing unwanted advice
People feeling free to comment about my changing body
I didn't like the changes to my body

Which of the following were the most useless baby items you or your partner bought?

Answer options Response percent
Top n tail bowl 27%
Baby hairbrush 21%
Baby shoes 20%
Cartridge-style nappy wrapper bin 11%
Baby bath  10%
Moses basket  9%
Bumbo  9%
Baby scissors  9%
Bottle warmer  8%
Bath thermometer 8%
Cot-top changer 3%
Wipe warmer 2%
Video baby monitor 1%
Other 17%


For your first pregnancy, did you correctly guess the sex of your baby before he or she was born or before you were told his/her sex by a healthcare professional?

Answer options Response percent
Yes, I correctly guessed it 38%
No, I guessed incorrectly 25%
No, I didn't speculate/guess 36%

...If yes, how did you guess?

Answer options Response percent
Trusted 'mother's instinct'  59%
It was just a lucky guess 29 %
Took morning sickness or lack of as an indicator 4 %
Used cravings as an indicator 3 %
Dangled wedding ring over bump
I caught a glimpse of the scan  3%
Used high or low bump to predict gender 2%
Used comparison with a previous pregnancy as an indicator 0%
Other  8%


Did anyone, apart from yourself, touch your bump while you were pregnant?

Answer options Response percent
Yes  94%
No 6%


...If anyone touched your bump, was it with your permission - and did you mind?

Answer options With permission Without permission I minded that they touched my bump
My partner 80% 18% 1%
My child 71% 28% 3%
My mother 71% 27% 9%
My father 76% 24% 11%
Mother-in-law 54% 43% 29%
Father-in-law 47% 47% 38%
Another relative 64% 35% 18%
Friend 66% 32% 15%
Stranger 8% 90% 72%
Healthcare professional 93% 6% 6%


Which of the following best describes how you feel when men occasionally compare their painful experiences to childbirth? 

Answer options Response percent
They're not qualified to comment; men will never understand the pain of childbirth 45%
It's fair enough: it's quite possible that some other pains are equal or worse than birth
They are paying mothers a compliment by comparing gruelling or painful episodes to childbirth
Other 8%


Do you believe the commonly held view that women are biologically programmed to forget the pain of childbirth?

Answer options Response percent
Yes  53%
No  32%
Don't know  14%


If you had to rank the pain of the following on a scale of 0 (no pain) to 10 (worst pain possible), how would you do so?

Answer options 0-2 3-5 6-7 8-10 Not experienced
Childbirth 1% 5% 17% 69% 5%
Recovery from vaginal birth 12% 31% 22% 13% 15%
Recovery from c-section 2% 9% 10% 9% 59%
Broken arm or leg 1% 9% 8% 5% 64%
Gallstones 0% 1% 2% 6% 76%
Cystitis 13% 31% 11% 4% 32%
Slipped disk 0% 1% 4% 6% 74%
Migraine 2% 21% 21% 14% 32%

Thinking about the first time you gave birth - which of the following statements comes closest to your feelings about the sensation of labour and birth?

Answer options Response percent
It was the most painful experience of my life
It was excruciating, but not the worst pain I've experienced
It was painful, but I felt able to cope  26%
It was actually quite manageable and not too bad
I positively enjoyed the sensations of labour and birth and wouldn't describe it as 'painful'
Don't know/none of the above
I had a c-section and didn't find it painful

Thinking about the first time you gave birth, did you use any of the following methods to relieve the pain - and if so, were they effective?

Answer options Percentage who used Of those who used: found effective Of those who used: not effective
Gas & air (Entonox)  80% 63% 37%
Epidural  43% 89% 11%
Pethidine  28% 54% 46%
Hypnobirthing 13% 71% 29%
Water birth 18% 76% 24%
TENS machine 41% 53% 47%
Acupuncture 1% 27% 73%
Aromatherapy 5% 36% 64%
Massage 14% 57% 43%
Reflexology 1% 23% 77%

How long ago did you last give birth?

Answer options Response percent
Less that a year ago 
1-2 years ago
2-3 years ago
3-4 years ago
4-5 years ago
5+ years ago
10+ years ago

Would you say you've forgotten the exact sensations of pain that you felt during the last time you gave birth?

Answer options Response percent
Yes, completely  19%
Yes, but I remembered it clearly for a long time after giving birth 
No, but the memory is fading with time
No, I will never forget how painful it was
N/A: Didn't experience pain during last birth 

Thinking about your first pregnancy: did any of the following worry or concern you in the run-up to the birth?

Answer options Response percent
The pain of labour and birth
Worry about something going medically wrong
Worry about tearing and/or stitching
Worry about caring for newborn baby post birth
The logistics of getting to hospital/arranging a home birth
Dislike of hospitals
Worry about availability of midwives (eg on a hospital ward or for home births)
Potential disruption of your relationship with your partner and/or other children in your family
Arranging care for other children
No concerns/worries

Survey of 1076 female Mumsnet users with at least one child. Conducted in July 2015.

Advice and info on pregnancy and childbirth Where to have your baby


Last updated: about 5 years ago