At some point in your pregnancy, it will dawn on you (usually in the last couple of months) that the little human growing inside of you will need to exit your body – at which point you may start perceiving your tiny baby as more of a giant watermelon.
Here are some of the more surprising aspects of birth that you probably don’t know about and we women all agree,
the more you know, the better prepared you will be, and the less scared you will feel (hopefully).
And when it comes to birth, it is ALWAYS better to expect the unexpected!
Natural childbirth is when you deliver your baby without medication (pain or otherwise) or medical intervention and for many women it can be a totally empowering and exhilarating experience.
Some women opt for pain relief usually in the form of an epidural.
Movies and sitcoms leave you with a mental image of a woman huffing and puffing and squeezing her partner’s hand (maybe swearing a little) and then with a dramatic scream and a creased brow, a wonderfully clean and rather large, perfectly pink baby is placed in her arms.
It’s not really like that at all (except for the swearing, maybe).
Here are some of the unexpected parts of birth that we really think you need to know about in order to preserve your dignity, to help you avoid disappointment and more than anything to make sure you realise you’re not alone when weird stuff happens…
Labor is a fascinating, exciting and (often) terrifying experience for a woman.
It’s really hard work (it IS called Labor).
It is such a complicated, intense experience physically and emotionally and there are aspects of it that aren’t discussed or well known. Let’s look at some of the unexpected elements of labor.
It can surprise you
Unless your doctor or midwife is planning to induce you, you are pretty much a ticking time bomb -without the digital display, of course – and often, the start of labor can really take you by surprise.
Women generally go into labor anywhere between 37- 42 weeks of pregnancy despite your due date being worked out according to the average 40 week gestational period. In fact as few as 5% of women actually give birth on their due date (studies show).
Despite the lengths women go to, to initiate labor, trust your baby and your body to decide the right time and consider the following ideas to help you feel like you have some control when this exciting surprise comes your way:
- Pack your hospital/labor bag by 28 weeks and make sure your partner knows where it is. It may be a good idea to keep it in the trunk of your car, especially after the 40 week mark.
- Sort out your maternity leave documentation and paperwork before 36 weeks or earlier if possible
Spilling the beans on broken waters
At some point, your water will break. So what’s the big deal? It’s featured in every movie, it’s laughed about, and yet, when it happens to you, it might not be quite what you expected.
- It could happen before labor – like the movies – although only a few women experience this. It will most likely happen during labor or it may not happen at all – and your doc or midwife will break them for you – no extra pain, don’t worry.
- It could be a gush, a slow leak or a bit of both.
- It’s messy! And that might irritate you – nothing quite like the feeling of wetting your pants or fluid all over the floor when you’re not expecting it.
Amniotic fluid is odorless and colorless; should you notice a dark color be sure to contact your doctor or midwife as it could indicate that your baby is in distress.
It could feel like forever (or it could be over before you know it!)
This one is a toughie. There is no way of knowing how long you will labor for before your baby is born especially if this is your first baby.
You will hear stories of women who were in labor for 3 days and women who were in labor for 2 hours (Pick me! Pick me!). On average first time moms experience active labor for about 8 hours before their cervix is fully dilated and they’re ready to push (Baby Center).
It’s a bit of a marathon where you need to pace yourself, listen to your body and take it one contraction at a time which brings us to…
It will hurt (and the stuff they DON’T tell you about contractions)
Undoubtedly the most telling sign that you’re truly in labor is regularly spaced contractions.
But everyone knows that women get contractions in labor, that’s to be expected, right?
The surprise is their intensity.
They generally start off feeling like period cramps that are manageable (“Yes! I can do this”) but can quickly become more intense, deep and strangling (“Make it stop!”) especially once your water has broken.
For some women, all the pain they feel is in their back (this can be linked to the baby’s position) and it can be overwhelming. For others the pain is all in their front as their uterus contracts, getting smaller and pushing that baby slowly down towards the birth canal and opening up the pelvis – bones move apart! Ouch!
Having a baby hurts, but there are ways to cope with this pain.
You don’t need to panic! You can do this!
Filling your body with oxygen will benefit you and your baby. As your muscles work hard to bring your little one closer to you they need more oxygen and so does your baby.
Having your partner counting with you as you breathe in and out can help you stay focused which bring us to this:
- You need a supportive birth partner.
Someone you trust, who has some idea of what you’ll need during labor – back rubs, a hand to squeeze, counting etc.
- Relax (Huh? Are you crazy?)
Try to surrender to the process of labor…
— This pain is not working against you, IT IS YOU!
— You are these strong waves, YOUR body is strong and is bringing you closer to holding your baby.
— You NEED this pain to meet your baby!
Our natural instinct as human beings is to tense up as we experience pain, but during labor we actually need to open up. Try not to fight the contractions.
- Pressure (especially if you’re experiencing all the pain in your back)
As a contraction builds, some women report incredible relief from their partner pushing hard on their back or even thighs. Don’t be shy to ask your birth partner for help, you’re a team.
- Moving can help – a lot!
During labor, you might have the urge to move – go for it!
Swaying your hips, walking around, squatting and different positions can all help your body open up. Some argue that the worst position to be in for labor is flat on your back (after all, don’t they tell you not to sleep on your back – why should you labor on your back?) What To Expect.
- This too shall pass
You will not be in labor forever.
Hang in there, it will end.
Maybe you are hoping to avoid all of the above anguish and planning to have an epidural, cool! That brings us to…
Pain relief surprises
When it comes to pain relief, many women are thrilled at the advances in the medical field over the last 100 years! Meet the star of the show – the epidural!
According to WebMD, This incredibly popular form of pain relief is administered straight into your lower back near your nerves (yes, they put a catheter in your spine!) making you numb from your belly to your toes while you stay awake (pretty brilliant, if you ask me!)
Here are a few things you need to know that might surprise you about this well-loved pain relief.
- You might experience a strange sensation similar to an electric shock down one of your legs as it is administered but this is just for a couple of seconds.
- You might get a headache afterwards (compared to the pain of contractions, you’ll be able to cope with this).
- You might get itchy depending how your body reacts to the meds.
- You might fall asleep – after hours of labor, the pain relief can allow you to doze for a bit (heavenly) and you can really benefit from the rest before you need to handle the delivery.
- It might not work – that is so NOT what you wanted to read right now! There is a very small chance that you might not experience the pain relief you desperately want, sometimes epidurals only numb your body partially allowing you to still feel some of the pain of labor. Adjustments CAN be made by the anaesthesiologist so be sure to speak up! And if it does all work beautifully…
- It might be the sweetest relief you’ve ever known!
It’s a messy business
Labor is intense and takes over your whole body.
- You might poop yourself.
All the contracting of your uterus will most likely make your tummy want to work and you might feel constant urges to run to the bathroom.
Especially towards the end of active labor, just before pushing, the pressure of your baby’s head will make it feel like you’re about to poo – and you might- and that’s okay (you won’t really care at this point anyway).
If the thought of this really does upset you then be sure to let the midwife or nurses know that you would like an enema before your labor progresses too far and it’s too late for one.
- You might let off gas
Try not to take yourself too seriously, trust me, no one is going to mind, laugh it off and know you’re not alone in this.
- You might be sweaty.
Your body and muscles are working really hard. Ask your partner to wipe your face and arms with a cool cloth for relief and STAY HYDRATED!
- You might vomit.
The morning sickness from the first trimester might be really far from your mind, so this could really take you by surprise. According to Baby Med, pain medication, contractions and food sitting in your tummy (your digestion slows down) can lead to vomiting during labor.
Vomiting in labor (besides being really awful and messy) can lead to dehydration and weakness which won’t help you handle those contractions still coming your way.
If this happens to you, sucking on ice chips or sipping slightly carbonated drinks in labor can ease the discomfort, keep you hydrated and give you the strength to push on (pardon the pun).
Your privacy – a thing of the past
If you’re planning a hospital birth, the number of eyes – and hands – on you might surprise you! From your OBGYN, to nurses, to trainee nurses, you need to expect an audience.
Here’s the good news:
They’re all on your side, they know what they’re doing,
And when you’re in the middle of labor,
You won’t care!
But still, prepare your partner as well, it can be a little overwhelming if it’s unexpected.
Your plans might have to change
This is the most difficult news to encounter when you’re in labor (or even before).
It doesn’t matter how beautifully your birth plan is typed out or who has read it, the sad reality is that pregnancy and childbirth can be complicated and things can change. You might experience minor changes (like a different doctor delivering your baby) or a major change (like needing to have an emergency c-section).
It’s NOT your fault.
Maybe your body will start taking too much strain at the end of your pregnancy, maybe your baby is in a strange position making natural birth dangerous, maybe your induction will fail and your body won’t progress, maybe you won’t get the epidural you hoped for. There are so many variables and factors to consider when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth.
Here are some tips to help you handle a change in plans:
- Prepare your heart and mind for a possible change early on in your pregnancy
- Give yourself time to grieve the loss of your hoped-for experience
- Try to always keep the goal of a healthy mom and healthy baby at the front of your mind, knowing that by sacrificing your birth plan you are putting your baby first – that makes you a wonderful mommy!
- Ask questions; being informed about changes and what’s taking place will give you a sense of control and put your mind at ease allowing you to trust the hands you’re in.
The climax of hours of contractions and waiting is finally here, it’s time to meet your baby!
Here’s the catch – you’ve got to PUSH the baby out of your body! A human being needs to find its way out of your body. When you actually stop to think about it, it sounds kinda crazy and yet it’s a natural process (it might not FEEL natural though).
A few surprises about pushing your baby out of your body, coming right up!
You might not feel like pushing
You’re tired, you’re sore and now you have to work even harder.
Here’s the really good news, it’s almost over! You’re in the home stretch and often that little fact is enough to spur you on to get that baby out! You can do this!
You might be scared
Pushing a baby out of your body is no small task, it involves effort and pain. You’re allowed to be scared but this is what you need to remember:
- You’re in excellent hands and
- Your body CAN do this
You might say “stuff”
You might swear at your partner or beg for a c-section, you might just say “I can’t do this” or “help me, help me.” Prepare your partner ahead of time to ignore any insults that come his way, you’re giving birth to his baby, you’re allowed to freak out a little.
Give yourself grace, you’re going through a pretty life-changing experience. So don’t be mad at yourself for things you said while in labor, let it go.
It isn’t a sign of weakness, you are SO strong.
It might feel good!
Pushing with the wave of a contraction behind you can feel incredibly satisfying.
After hours of just coping with the contractions, bearing down and using that strength to bring your baby closer and closer to your arms is amazing. In fact, NOT pushing, is almost impossible.
It’s a different kind of pain
Especially as your baby’s head crowns (appears) you will possibly feel an incredible burning sensation, often referred to as a ring of fire (couldn’t have said it better). It’s not rocket science figuring out why; the vaginal opening is stretching to the max as the pressure of your baby’s head pushes against it. (American Pregnancy)
Some women don’t feel this sensation (tell us how!) but here’re some tips on how to cope with it in case:
- Slow down – the pain is a sign that the tissue is stretching very quickly, allow your body a little longer to stretch.
- Wait it out – this pain usually only lasts for a short while and is followed by a sense of numbness (hooray!)
- Don’t push! Again, give your body time to stretch, if you push now you will most likely tear, take short (huffy puffy) breaths and let your body ease your baby’s head out slowly.
You might tear – or be cut – “down there”
This may not really come as a surprise to you since many women talk about their births in great detail but there are a few things you need to know about what happens to your lady bits at birth.
Let’s face it dear mama, it’s a small opening, yes – it can stretch but the fact is, it’s small (sigh).
Most women do experience some degree of “trauma” to the perineum (area between the vagina and anus), this can come in the form of a tear (what happens naturally) or from intervention by a doctor or midwife in the form of a cut (episiotomy). Modern thought, according to WebMD, is that episiotomies are not routinely required and are only needed if the baby is in distress and needs to be born faster.
And you might feel it!
Depending on the urgency of the episiotomy, there’s a small chance you might feel being cut, but the chances are that your doctor will first apply a local anaesthetic. If you tear, you most likely won’t have been given anaesthetic in the area BUT, if you let your baby’s head crown slowly and hold back on the pushing until they tell you to, there’s a good chance you won’t feel much (natural numbness).
Here’s a heads up on how to look out for your lady bits during birth:
- As mentioned earlier, how hard you push to deliver your baby’s head will impact the trauma to your perineum, slow it down, take short rapid breaths and let your baby’s head be born gently.
- The position you’re in when you deliver your baby can play a large role in perineal trauma, with the best positions being squatting, hands and knees or standing; lying on your back can make you more likely to tear or need to be cut.
- A warm cloth can be applied to the area as you push to help the tissue stretch.
- It is possible (though not studied) that perineal massage before and during birth can reduce tearing.
It is not the end of the world if you tear or are cut, your doctor or midwife will stitch you up carefully (under local anaesthetic) and with proper care of your wound, you will heal well.
You might need help
In some cases, especially after very long labors or if the baby is in distress, women need a little help getting their baby out. (Baby Center).
Help might come in the form of a vacuum to hold your little one’s head and gently ease him/her out – this is especially helpful if the baby keeps “slipping back up there’’ or is angled incorrectly for birth. This is basically a suction that is placed on the baby’s head.
- It won’t hurt you or your baby.
- Your little one might have a TEMPORARY swelling on his/her head after birth from the suction but this will go down in no time (and you won’t notice it anyway under that gorgeous knitted beanie from Aunty Helda).
In some cases forceps are used (they look like salad servers) that secure your baby’s head and guide it out the birth canal. They have a higher success rate but are more invasive.
Your baby might not cry straight away
In the movies, babies are born bright pink and screaming their heads off (hands down the best sound in the world).
In reality, some babies enter the world more quietly. This can really take you by surprise.
Your baby’s lungs are fluid-filled in your womb and receive the oxygen they need via the umbilical cord. At birth – though being squished in the birth canal helps squeeze the fluid out of their lungs – some babies still have some fluid on their lungs which prevents them from taking their first breath (and crying) straight away.
They’re still receiving oxygen from the placenta and umbilical cord – as long as the cord is still pulsing! Clever, right?
- Your doc or midwife might massage their back or hold them at a funny angle to help that last bit of fluid out so they can cry
- They might put a suction in their nose and mouth to clear their airways
- In rare cases they might put some oxygen on your baby just to be safe
Don’t panic! Your baby is in wonderful hands and will be bawling before you know it. It happens so often and yet it comes as a surprise to so many moms.
It’s messy, stinky and totally amazing
You might have a beautiful image in your mind of what it will be like to cuddle your little bambino for the first time, you’ll be smiling and he/she will be looking up at you and while this will probably happen, there might be a few surprising additions to this life-changing experience.
- Your baby might be ugly (gasp!)
Your little one has just navigated a very narrow tunnel and been squeezed by muscles for a few hours after spending roughly nine months in a water balloon swimming in his/her own urine – what a pretty picture!
— Your baby will be swollen and puffy in the face
— Your baby’s head might be a funny shape from being squashed in the birth canal
— Your baby might be a mix of pink, blue and white (hands and feet are the last to turn pink)
— Your baby might be covered in gunky white stuff (vernix) and blood (how lovely).
Here’s the good news – you won’t care!
You will be so relieved and happy to meet him/her, you’ll barely notice any of the above.
Here’s the other good news – it’s totally temporary!
Within a day or two your baby will resemble those gorgeous munchkins you saw in the magazines (altogether now… aaaaw).
- Things might stink!
Let’s consider all the bodily fluids that surround birth – blood, sweat, really old amniotic fluid, vernix and add a dash of poop for good measure – it really shouldn’t surprise you that birth can literally STINK! Often birth partners notice this more than the moms.
Again, totally temporary and easily remedied but a surprise all the same. Isn’t birth just a bag full of treats?
But wait – there’s more!
Your baby is born and is finally in your arms, you’re exhausted, relieved and ready to forget about the whole experience when suddenly…
You will read about delivering the placenta (afterbirth) in pregnancy books but it can still surprise you.
- You might experience cramping
- It might take a while (some doctors give you an injection to make your uterus contract to help expel the placenta)
- It might hurt a little especially if you experienced a tear or cut
- Usually it just feels like a warm gush and is pretty painless
Now you’re done.
So what’s next? Surely there can’t be more…
After the birth
You might act a little “high”
During birth, your body releases endorphins which help your body relax and actually act as a natural pain reliever (high five!) according to Dr Sears but these little guys coupled with the immense relief you feel once your baby is born (not forgetting the physical exhaustion you’re no doubt experiencing) can, well, make you seem a little high.
While this isn’t a bad thing at all, I mean hey, your body has just accomplished a mammoth task, you’ve earned a little “happy time” it might surprise you and you might say some things that you’ll be embarrassed about later – confessing your undying love for your OBGYN for example.
You might get the shakes
Your body is finally able to relax and suddenly you start shivering, shaking, trembling – weird right?
Here’s why. According to Trimester Talk it is most likely due to endorphins coupled with adrenalin as your body adjusts to the massive change it is experiencing. Good news is that it won’t last long at all, maybe a couple of minutes, now you know about it so it won’t surprise you as much.
You’re welcome 🙂
You still need “work”
Your baby is born, your world is suddenly calmer and you just want to relax as a new family, maybe try to feed him/her, but they’re not finished with you yet. Before you get to settle in with your baby and get some rest your doctor or midwife will tend to the cut or tear you may have experienced.
Few women expect to have their feet up in stirrups being stitched up after the birth of their baby but alas, it is so and now you know.
SO. MUCH. BLOOD.
It doesn’t matter how many warnings you get, this WILL surprise you!
The first time you stand up after having your baby, expect a bloody nightmare (literally). The nurses will try to help you minimise the flood zone but chances are there will be blood on the sheets, shoes and floor. It’s okay. It’s awful but it’s okay.
It will ease up after a couple of days and then just resemble a medium flow (in period talk) moving to a light flow over the next 6 weeks.
Your reflection might scare you.
Looking in the mirror after giving birth can downright depress you, coupled with the raging hormone changes in your body, you might cry a little, wondering if you’ll ever look “normal” again.
- Pushing your baby out can actually burst some of the little veins in your eyes leaving you with bloodshot eyes (What To Expect)
- You’ll be tired so you can add some dark rings to your red eyes
- Your belly will be saggy and you’ll still look about 5 months pregnant
- It’ll wobble while you walk or shower (ugly cry on this one)
- The skin on your belly might be darkened and feel strange (rubbery)
- You might still be swollen and puffy
You need some good news right now, here it is:
ALL of this is temporary, ALL of it!
- Your eyes will be back to normal in a week or two
- Swelling will ease up as your kidneys flush out the extra fluid in a couple of weeks
- Your skin will return to its normal colour in time – exfoliating can help speed up the process
- Your muscles will firm up in time – wearing those (oh-so-sexy) supportive post birth panties can really help. Really.
You might feel achy and winded!
You huffed and puffed and breathed in and out deeply for hours and hours while in labor. Your lungs worked hard and your muscles worked hard, you might feel stiff and sore all over. Your organs are also settling back into place after being squashed for a few months. Take it easy, rest, breathe deeply and know that it’ll all pass soon.
Taking care of “down there”
There are a few surprises and things you need to know about this. Your vagina has experienced something pretty crazy, she’ll be a little angry for a while…
- You’ll be bathing with salt – this is the best way to keep the wound clean and aid healing, it won’t hurt, promise.
- Pooping will hurt! The muscles around the anus will be sore and there’s a chance you may experience constipation due to the pain meds. Sigh. Most doctors prescribe stool softeners after birth and now you know why. Use them, you’ll thank yourself later.
- Haemorrhoids might add to your discomfort and often develop from the pressure of pushing. Ask your doctor for some cream for them, they will go away.
- Spraying some cold water “down there” when you wipe can make it gentler on your stitches.
- Speaking of which – those stitches will dissolve! Phew!
Many women worry and are too nervous to ask about if their lady bits will ever be the same again after birth. It is a real concern. The best way to answer this is to tell you that you will get back to normal but it will be a NEW normal.
Physical intimacy will most likely hurt the first few times but it won’t always hurt.
Be gentle on yourself, you gave birth to a beautiful baby, your body will carry reminders of that miracle.
Breastfeeding might not be so easy
For some women, their babies latch on the first time and away they go. For MOST women it is a bit of a different story. Here are a few things you need to know:
- It might hurt – your nipples aren’t used to having a little person sucking on them and so they need to toughen up, unfortunately they might crack and bleed for the first few days, it can be EXCRUCIATING! Don’t give up – once they are tough, it won’t hurt a bit! Ask the nurses to help you to latch your baby correctly, this can drastically minimise the pain.
- You might feel contractions – Excuse me!!!!? Aren’t we way past this by now? The wonderful hormone that is released as your baby nurses (oxytocin) helps you to feel calm – yes, you can feel calm with a human being attached to your nipple (go figure) – and it helps you to bond with your baby BUT it also helps your uterus contract back to its old size (Fit Pregnancy). By the end of your pregnancy your uterus is about 500 times its old size. Crazy hey? The good news is that these contractions are temporary, they’re usually not as strong as labor pains and they help you get your shape back! We like them!
- Milk comes in after a few days – don’t panic if you don’t seem to have enough milk, your body produces high-calorie colostrum for your little one which is more than enough to keep them satisfied in the first couple of days. Just keep latching your little one, that milk will come.
Hormones and the games they play
Your hormones are all over the place after birth. And they are far more powerful than we give them credit for…
- Night sweats
You might wake up totally soaked after the birth of your baby (maybe you even experienced this during pregnancy)
- Baby blues
Usually around day 3 after birth you might find yourself being quite tearful or grumpy. Hormones. If you’re still experiencing feelings of sadness or other unusual mood swings after a couple of weeks, chat to your doctor to rule out post-partum depression.
Your body goes through an incredible amount to grow your baby and then give birth and recover.
When it comes to labor and birth, go with the flow, trust your body, find the support you need and surrender to the process. You will feel empowered and it will literally change your life.
And after a couple of weeks of caring for a newborn you might even find yourself thinking
“birth was the easy part!”