If we had to tell you one thing that all women know for sure it’s that childbirth is incredibly painful.
But as it turns out, this might not actually be the case for everyone.
Experts are claiming that some women don’t feel any pain at all during childbirth, due to a rare gene.
According to researchers from Cambridge University around one in 100 women have a rare variant of the gene KCNG4, which is associated with a higher pain threshold.
This variant means they don’t require pain relief when giving birth, as it acts “like a natural epidural”.
Alright for some, huh?!
The findings were published in the journal Cell Report, and researchers are hopeful that their work could “open avenues to the development of new drugs to manage pain”.
Scientists believe that the genetic variant reduces the ability of nerve cells to send pain signals to the brain.
Cambridge University’s Dr Ewan St John Smith, who was the senior co-author on the study, explained: “The genetic variant that we found in women who feel less pain during childbirth leads to a ‘defect’ in the formation of the switch on the nerve cells.
“In fact, this defect acts like a natural epidural. It means it takes a much greater signal – in other words, stronger contractions during labour – to switch it on.
“This makes it less likely that pain signals can reach the brain.”
So how did they find the genetic variant?
The team studied a group of women at Addenbrooke’s Hospital who gave birth to their first child in a vaginal delivery with no complications – and no pain relief.
“It is unusual for women to not request gas and air, or epidural for pain relief during labour, particularly when delivering for the first time,”said Dr Michael Lee, the study’s joint first author.
They conducted various tests on the group and then conducted the same tests on a number of women who did receive pain relief during a similar birth.
From this they found that the women who had not required pain relief showed higher tolerance for heat, cold and mechanical pressure, as well as pain.
An analysis of the women’s genetic sequences then revealed they had a higher prevalence of a gene variant called KCNG4.
KCNG4 helps with the production of a protein that forms part of a ‘gate’, controlling the electric signal that flows along our nerve cells.
The rare variant found is said to reduce the ability to open the gate and turn on nerves.
Professor David Menon, senior co-author on the study, added: “This approach of studying individuals who show unexpected extremes of pain experience also may find wider application in other contexts, helping us understand how we experience pain and develop new drugs to treat.”