If you are dealing with an unplanned pregnancy, odds are that you weren’t 100 percent prepared for the pregnancy experience — and certainly not prepared for childbirth, either. If you’ve made it to this article, you may be asking yourself a few questions as you prepare for your upcoming labor experience. But, if you’re wondering what you need to know about childbirth, you’ve come to the right place.
Childbirth can be a mysterious process to many women, especially because many mothers aren’t great at describing it in detail once it has passed. A woman’s brain often focuses on happy memories with her new baby rather than the dirty details of the labor process. While this is good for her, it’s less than beneficial for young women like you looking for everything to know about labor and delivery before it happens.
We’re here to help. Below, find 10 important facts that include some of the most important things to know about pregnancy and birth.
1. Your Water May Not Break.
You’ve seen it all before in the movies: When an expectant mother’s labor starts, her water breaks in dramatic fashion, gushing all over her legs. But, it’s actually much more common for your water to break in a slow, steady flow — or it may not break at all.
This may seem small, but it’s actually one of the most important things to know about labor and delivery. You shouldn’t rely solely on your water breaking as a sign of labor; you need to be able to recognize the other symptoms of labor and identify when it’s really time for you to go to the hospital.
You may find that your “water” (actually the amniotic fluid around your baby) doesn’t break at all. Your contractions may become steadier and you may be more than three centimeters dilated with no idea that your water hasn’t broken. In this case, your doctor will break your water for you at the hospital to speed up your labor.
Also, know this: Your water can break hours before your contractions begin. If this happens, call your doctor, but don’t let this sign be a motivator to go to the hospital; one of the things to know about birth is that contractions are a far better indicator of how far you are in the labor and delivery process.
2. Your Labor May Not Go as Planned.
When you’re preparing to give birth, everyone will tell you to make a birth plan. A birth plan is a huge part of determining what you want your childbirth experience to be like; it gives a guideline for things such as who you want in the room with you, whether you want a medicated or natural delivery and more.
That said, don’t be surprised if your delivery doesn’t 100 percent adhere to the plan. In fact, many women report that their childbirth experience is nothing like their delivery plan. There are a lot of unknown factors when it comes to labor and delivery, especially for first-time mothers. Your delivery will progress based on things such as how long your labor takes, your medical situation and more. Your doctor may change the plan to do what is best for your baby and you.
So, while establishing a delivery plan helps your delivery team understand what to know about your labor and delivery, it’s important to be flexible and let your experience progress as it may.
3. Having a Positive Support System Can Make All the Difference.
Delivery can happen quickly — or it can be a mentally and physically exhausting experience that takes a long time. Having a good support team during this process is invaluable.
As part of your delivery plan, you will need to decide who you want in the delivery room with you. Many women choose to bring their partners and their babies’ fathers along for the ride; taking childbirth classes together in your second and third trimesters can prepare you both for this life-changing event. That way, both of you will understand all the things to know about labor before you step foot in a hospital birthing room.
A trusted family member or friend in the delivery room can:
- Advocate for you when you are busy or your attention is elsewhere
- Hold your hand when you need extra support
- Remind you of and guide you through your breathing practices
- Reassure you that yes, you can do this
- Make sure that you feel comfortable during every step — and that you never feel alone
When selecting people to be a part of your delivery team, make sure that you choose people who will positively support you and make your process easier. Never feel obligated to include someone in your delivery room if you don’t 100 percent want them to be there.
4. Your Doctor Won’t Be There Every Second.
One of the things to know about pregnancy and birth is that it can take a long time. Your doctor will likely be seeing many patients at the same time, so he or she may not be available to you every second of your labor. This doesn’t mean he or she is slacking on the job — just that he or she is a busy person.
You will be accompanied by nurses and midwives for the majority of your labor experience. They will be the ones to check how dilated you are, as well as your vitals, as you progress through childbirth. Your doctor will be called in should any complications arise and, in most cases, for the final delivery of your baby.
In the meantime, you will likely see a host of faces throughout your delivery. Depending on the length of your labor, you will see several shift changes. There will be a lot of people in the room for your main event: typically three nurses, your delivering doctor or midwife, and a pediatrician or family physician to check your baby after they are delivered.
5. Things Can Get Messy — Really Messy.
Childbirth is not a glamorous business, and it’s not a clean one, either. If you’re asking, “What do I need to know about giving birth?” know that you and the hospital staff will be dealing with all sorts of bodily fluids during and after your delivery.
First off, one of the biggest questions that expectant mothers ask: Will I poop during delivery?
The answer: Most likely. The muscles that you use to push your baby out are the same muscles that you use when you defecate. Because of this, the majority of women do poop during labor. Don’t worry, though; your doctor or nurse has seen it before, and it’s actually a sign that you are pushing correctly! On the same note, you may find yourself peeing a bit before and during labor, and that’s completely normal too.
6. You Should Consider All Pain Levels When Determining Medication Preferences.
Many women, especially those who have never gone through childbirth before, decide that they want to have a completely natural birthing experience — and that is entirely their right. However, before you make this decision, it’s important that you consider all the potentials of your childbirth process.
Some women base their labor pain estimate off those of their mothers or sisters — or even off previous labors they have had. However, remember that every labor is different, and you may find yourself unable to cope with the pain you thought you could. If you have decided on a strict no-medication delivery, you will have a painful experience.
Before you decide to have a 100 percent natural birth, talk at length with your obstetrician. They can offer suggestions on what medication you should be open to, just in case the experience is not what you anticipate.
7. Your Baby’s Heart Rate Will Be Monitored.
One of the things to know before giving birth is that your doctor will do everything they can to keep you and your baby safe and healthy during this difficult process. This means that physical monitoring will be completed as long as possible, including electrodes placed on your belly to track your baby’s heartbeat. If your baby’s heart rate is abnormal or it cannot be detected, your doctor will move the electrode directly to your baby’s scalp — which they will access through your cervix. Your doctor should explain this process to you and make sure you are comfortable before proceeding.
Your baby’s heart rate may be monitored continuously or intermittently, as recommended by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
8. Labor Isn’t Over When Your Baby is Born.
When you finally feel the relief of your little one sliding out of your vagina, you may think that you’re done with the labor process. That’s not quite true; you will still need to deliver the placenta.
The placenta is the organ that has nourished your baby over the last nine months. It will be attached to your baby’s umbilical cord and must be expelled once your child is born. Details surrounding your placenta are important things to know before giving birth; you can decide whether you wish to have your baby’s cord cut right away, or if you wish to take advantage of the benefits of delayed cord clamping. Your doctor can speak with you about the pros and cons of each decision to help you make the best choice for you.
9. Expect Blood, Even After Your Labor is Complete.
When it comes to blood, there will be a lot of it — during and after childbirth. It can be alarming to see the wads of pads and toilet paper that your labor team dispose of during childbirth, but remember that this is normal. Your body is going through huge changes, and certain tissues will tear while you push your baby out. If your doctor performs an episiotomy (which is rare), the bleeding will be even worse. Don’t worry; your delivery team knows what is normal and what is not, and they will make sure that you are receiving any medical care you may need during this time.
After you have delivered, you will need to wear maxi pads (otherwise known as “mommy diapers”) to cope with the post-birth bleeding you will experience. Every woman’s postpartum recovery period is different, but many women describe the post-birth bleeding as similar to having their period — for six or seven weeks after their baby is born. To aid in your recovery, you may be given special underwear in which an ice pack can be stuffed and alleviate some of the pain from delivery and any remaining stitches down there.
10. Every Pregnancy is Different — and So is Every Labor.
Finally, as you are learning what you need to know about childbirth, try not to get too hung up on others’ experiences. There are plenty of fairytale birth stories out there, just as there are plenty of horror stories. As much as you want to research to learn what to expect, doing so can sometimes be counterproductive.
The information that you find on the internet (and that includes this article) is not intended to be and should not be taken as medical advice. Only your doctor can best predict what your delivery process might be like and tell you everything you need to know about childbirth. When in doubt, reach out to your obstetrician — they know best.