One-Minute Book Reviews

June 23, 2008

How Bad Is the Pain of Childbirth? A Possible Way to Tell If You’re Going to Want That Epidural, As Described in ‘Predictably Irrational’

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:01 am
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Women, make your husbands try this before you head for the hospital

How bad is the pain of childbirth? Behavioral economist Dan Ariely offers a way to get a handle on the question in his new Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions (HarperCollins, 280 pp., $25.95)

Ariely says that before the birth of their first child, he and his wife spoke with a birth coach who swore that if Sumi plunged her hands into a bucket of ice for two minutes, the pain would resemble that childbirth. That test might help Sumi get a sense of whether she would want pain relief during the delivery. She tried it and, after two minutes, “clearly understood the appeal of an epidural.”

I have no children, but this idea sounded a little kinky to me. So I went to the Exxon station, bought a $1.99 bag of ice and lugged it home. Then I stuck my hands in it.


I tried the test twice, repeating it in the interest of scientific accuracy, and it confirmed what I had long suspected: If I’d had children, I’d have asked for an epidural after 20 seconds. That was longest I could stand to have my hands in the ice.

Afterward, it occurred to me: What if all pregnant women made their husbands keep their hands in a bag of ice for the amount of time their labor might last — say, 36 hours? Even half an hour might be revealing.

So here’s a suggestion for pregnant women and others: The next time you and your husband sit down to watch Jeopardy!, bring out a bag of ice. Ask him to keep his hands in it until the end of the show. If he wants to quit, yell encouraging things like “Pant! Pant!” or “You’re doing great, honey!” Or come out wearing a shower cap to help him get in the spirit of the test. The results could be interesting, don’t you think?

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. When my OB asked me if I was going to want an epidural, I told him to meet me in the parking lot.

    Comment by heykat — June 23, 2008 @ 10:12 am | Reply

  2. Bet some women reading this will want to do likewise …

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — June 23, 2008 @ 12:38 pm | Reply

  3. I feel that I must admit here that I gave birth to three children without any pain medication. They were born far enough apart that I somehow managed, in between, to develop situational amnesia…except with the last, who arrived whilst I screamed for an epidural; I started screaming too late.

    That said, I can tell you this: the ice does not begin to give one even a hint of the actual experience.

    Try this: eat a bowling ball. Pass it.

    Comment by ggelliott — June 23, 2008 @ 7:06 pm | Reply

  4. Thanks, GG. Even though the ice was pretty much intolerable for me, I did wonder how it would translate to the real thing.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — June 23, 2008 @ 7:34 pm | Reply

  5. This is hilarious – but nothing matches the pain of contractions, especially unproductive ones – been there, done that, blah, blah, blah.

    After one emergency (and we do mean emergency!) Caesarean section, one stillbirth and one extremely difficult (including several months in bed so as not to lose the fetus) pregnancy, my OB and I were discussing the date to schedule the delivery – certainly it would be last delivery or pregnancy, regardless of the outcome.

    When my then-husband suggested I try natural delivery, the OB suggested we implant a uterus in him and let him give it a go….

    I think that’s the answer here.

    Comment by draabe — June 26, 2008 @ 2:17 pm | Reply

  6. Thanks so much for getting my humor. I did intend that exercise (lugging the ice home from the Exxon station, which I did last Saturday) to be a bit funny. But you’re the only one who seems to have gotten it so far.

    What an enlightened OB you have to have suggested implanting a uterus in your husband! Don’t you wish more OBs would do likewise?

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — June 26, 2008 @ 2:30 pm | Reply

  7. […] to the cooler full of ice and beer, and see what the pain of childbirth is like.  Check out this blog entry on a great book blog for the full description. […]

    Pingback by A fun activity for the holiday weekend « Gestation/Renovation — July 3, 2008 @ 12:42 pm | Reply

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