Planted firmly amongst the never-ending concerns that occupy the thoughts of an expectant mother are the unknowns of how the scene will unfold in the labor and delivery room. Though the countless hours of reading and research will help prepare for a multitude of scenarios, no book can predict what the specific events directly leading up to birth will be.
Given that every crystal ball in existence is inconveniently out of order, what are soon-to-be moms to do? Simply put: Expect the unexpected. Gearing up for delivery day will undoubtedly ease concerns, while also helping expecting mothers feel more in control. Accepting that a time may come during labor in which all of mom's plans are tossed out the window will both lessen any concerns and help mothers stay as relaxed as possible.
With that in mind, knowing specifically how things can play out for mother and child can be a key strategy in facing the unknowns of labor and delivery. Read on to start building up your defense, but remember: once our little ones are safe in our arms, it won't matter at all how they got there.
Get ready to be impressed. Your body is about to show you how powerful it really is. It's incredible how the female body operates during childbirth. One example? How much of the pushing the uterus does on its own. As per Splinter News, “the uterus is the force behind everything,” says Dr. Stephanie Romero, an OBGYN and assistant professor at the University of South Florida. “It squeezes the baby and the baby has nowhere to go but out.” These herculean powers are working in a c-section delivery as well. Dr. Romero continues “You make a hole in the abdominals and stretch them wide enough for a baby to come through–then they come back together and heal on their own, allowing us to function normally.” This proves yet again that women are superheroes.
It may be hard to remember when labor is in full swing, but contractions are actually pretty awesome. Each one moves laboring women one step closer to meeting their babies. At this point in the game, contractions have found their rhythm and they're letting the body know it’s crunch–well, push–time. Each contraction should be between two and five minutes apart, lasting around 45–90 seconds each, and may give your body a strong urge to push, according to Sutter Health. Think of the contractions as the body's built in birthing assistant, letting us know when it's time to push and time to rest.
In contrast to the birthing scenes shown in who knows how many rom-coms, holding your breath while pushing is not recommended. Patterned breathing techniques are actually a first line of defense against labor pains and any anxiety a laboring mother may be experiencing. Some of the benefits of patterned breathing techniques, per the American Pregnancy Association, are: they keep mom in a more relaxed state as labor progresses, they become an instant response to pain, and–perhaps most importantly–an increase in oxygen gives more energy and strength to both mom and baby. Another plus? Not only is this an aspect of childbirth that can be prepared for, it's also sure to help should things not go exactly as planned in the delivery room.
The pain experienced during labor and delivery is a tough fear to beat, but nipping right at its heels is this one small question: What if I poop? While it’s safe to say moms-to-be may not be thrilled with the idea, it's actually very common during childbirth and your care practitioners won't think twice about it. In fact, having a bowel movement while pushing is actually a good sign! Laurie MacLeod, a certified nurse midwife at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, told SheKnows, “If noticed, it simply reassures me that a patient is pushing effectively.” You may not have considered it in your birth plan, but should it happen, give yourself a high five for pushing like a champion!
It may not be the most talked about bodily fluid you'll expel during childbirth, but vomiting is a fairly common occurrence during delivery. As per Baby Med, nausea and/or vomiting generally occurs as labor and the contraction intensity progresses. However, the site notes that the chances of experiencing nausea, vomiting or both rise dramatically with some pain medications used in the labor and delivery process, specifically with some medications used in an epidural. Don't worry, there's no need to stress out about potentially puking on the midwife. As with the rear end, medical professionals are quick to move on from any vomiting that may occur. They'll also be sure to make hydration a priority, so no extra stress comes to mom or baby.
There's no way around it–except for a perfect epidural–giving birth hurts. It's a pain that has to be experienced to understand. It’s indescribable. Even with all the information available and preparing as much as humanly possible, there is no way to control natural instincts kicking in. So, it comes as no surprise that a multitude of spontaneous sounds may escape our lips when pushing. According to Scary Momma, don't be concerned if your voice is raw and scratchy, or gone all together, after giving birth. Like mother and baby, the vocal chords will be just fine with a little rest and fluids.
Pregnant or not, it's safe to say most people have never heard of “Sphincter Law” or have any inkling as to what it might be. Coined by renowned midwife Ina May Gaskin in her 2003 book Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, the term refers to likening the cervix to a sphincter and is utilized to quell tension and fears during birth. The idea is that if one sphincter is open and relaxed, so will the others in the body, as per website Mothering. In an interview available on the site, Gaskin explains that just as the body's natural instinct in response to fear is to close up, its response to calm and contentment is just the opposite. The short version? Whatever the delivery method, being positive, confident, and relaxed can only benefit moms and their coming little ones.
Though not often used in relation to childbirth, the body's fight or flight response is all too real during the birth process. Hormones called catecholamines trigger the response as part of the body's way of preparing mothers for pushing and delivery. Speaking with Splinter News, Dr. Stephanie Romero shares that, “No matter what time of day someone is in labor–whether it's 1:00 am or 1:00 pm–they are wide awake and in the moment. There's not a lot of nodding off during labor.” If there were any doubts about a delivering mother's ability to stay wide-eyed and awake while in labor, now is the time to toss those out for good.
Now you see it...now you don't! In case there was any doubt as to how amazing the female body is, consider this: it has its own magic show! Once fully dilated, the cervix is nowhere to be found. Dr. Stephanie Romero tells Splinter News, “There's no other body part that does this disappearing and reappearing act like the cervix does during labor and delivery.” What's even more astounding is when the cervix does reappear, it is exactly the same shape that it was prior to childbirth. Dr. Romero goes on to say, “The most amazing part of this whole process is that an opening normally so small you have to pull the skin apart to see it becomes relaxed enough to accommodate a human child coming through, and then afterwards it goes back to its same shape.”
Who's ready for an encore? That's right ladies! The main event has ended but there's on last job to do before calling it a night (or morning, afternoon, or early evening). In a relatively quick and easy process, the placenta also needs to be delivered. According to What to Expect, after gentle contractions help the placenta detach from the uterine wall and make its way through the birth canal, providers may: pull the umbilical cord while massaging the uterus or have you push while they put pressure on the uterus to deliver the placenta faster; administer some oxytocin to get contractions going, and make sure the placenta is whole (and remove any leftover pieces if it's not). Luckily, we'll be too busy basking in the immeasurable joy that motherhood brings to really notice this part.
Ever wonder how some babies can sleep through anything? It's thought that some babies may even sleep at times during labor and delivery. As Dru Campbell, a senior midwife at Health Bay Polyclinic in Dubai, explains to The National, babies remain largely unconcerned during active labor, to the point that they “can actually have sleep patterns during contractions.” In fact, moms may want take some advice from baby here. Once active labor begins sleeping is out of the question, so mothers are often encouraged, if they can, to sleep during early labor. As per Mother & Baby UK, sleeping during beginning contractions will give moms the chance to store up some much needed energy. Another plus? The cervix will being dilating, bringing the big event that much closer.
It certainly can feel as though moms are doing all of the work during labor and delivery, but babies are doing what they can to move the process along as well. According to Parents, this happens a few different ways. Often beginning well before leaving for the hospital, babies get the show on the road by pushing their heads into the birth canal, leading to the cervix dilating. Then, by twisting and turning their bodies, babies are moving to get into the best position for delivery: head first. Even if baby is in the posterior position when labor starts, as per BabyCenter, only 4 to 10 percent remain in that position at the time of birth.
Remember the Saturday Night Live skit? It may be hard to believe at first–no parent expects to think of Dan Ackroyd when looking at their child–but there's nothing for parents to worry about. Not only will a baby's head begin rounding out soon after birth, the fact that they are sporting the “cone-head” in the first place shows how amazing they are. The bones in a baby's skull fit together, but are not actually connected, allowing for flexibility during delivery and brain growth both in and out of the womb, as per Bellybelly. The skull bones will maneuver, allowing the head to pass through the vagina, and these movements can result in a temporarily misshapen head.
Labor is much more than just a stage of childbirth. The process also helps prepare baby for life on the outside. While the placenta has been the oxygen source inside the womb, the lungs take over immediately upon delivery. In preparation, the lungs lose pressure during delivery, allowing for normal blood flow. In utero, the lungs are filled with a fluid that aids in maturation, as per Parents. Richard Auerbach, M.D., a neonatologist at the Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital in Hollywood, Florida tells the site, “Labor dries up this fluid so the lungs can expand and fill with air after birth.”
Joining the lungs in helping babies transition to life in the outside world is the thyroid, the largest endocrine gland in the human body. The main function of the thyroid gland is in production of hormones that control the speed of our metabolisms. Dr Auerbach shares that at birth, a baby's “thyroid levels are sky-high,” which in turn, according to Parents, allow a type of fat known as “brown” fat to start producing heat. This is a vital component in a newborn regulating its temperature upon delivery. Moms (and dads) can be sure to keep baby warm as well with skin-to-skin contact.
One of the main goals we have as parents is to protect our children from pain for as long as humanly possible. Some expectant mothers may be concerned that their baby feels pain during delivery. Although currently there is no way to know exactly what a baby feels on its way into the world, science does have a few general theories, mainly that if a physical sensation is experienced, it's more of a pressure rather than pain. As Dr. Auerbach explains to Parents, “Your pain and the baby's pain are totally different. It's possible that the baby's pain may be what it feels like to squeeze through a tight space.” Though it may never be known for sure, it's highly unlikely baby's journey to the outside it a painful one.
Just as it is not 100% certain what babies feel when being born, neither is it known exactly what they may see and hear. To what extent may remain a mystery, but it is widely known that babies can hear while in the womb. Because babies can recognize their mother's voice from inside, singing and talking to baby during pregnancy is often recommended to start the bonding process, as per Parents. Less is known about what a baby may see while being delivered. It's possible that, if anything is seen at all, it's a big blur as newborns’ vision is blurry and they lack the ability to focus. One exception? They can recognize their mother's features from around 8 inches away.
Although a majority of what babies experience during delivery will be the same regardless of delivery type, there are a few important difference between a vaginal birth and a c-section. One notable difference is that with a c-section delivery comes the possibility of a baby being born with something called transient tachypnea. Also called “wet lung,” Medline Plus describes transient tachypnea as rapid breathing after birth due to leftover fluid in the lungs. Lacking the uterine contractions of the pushing stage and the chest compression that occurs in a vaginal delivery, both of which help clear fluid from the lungs, newborns born via c-section may have quicker, more intense breathing until the lungs are clear, as per Parents, which is usually about 24 to 48 hours.
As the saying goes, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Just as the mother's primal instincts kick in during delivery, so do baby's. According to Fatherly, newborn babies also have a fight or flight response to living outside of the womb. This is due to the fact that, at birth, the brain stem is the only portion of the brain that is fully developed. Dr. Kathleen Rowland of Rush Medical College tells the site, “A lot of a newborn's life is dictated by reflexes, like a sucking reflex or a rooting reflex. So their experiences may be much like ours when it comes to our reflexes.” Like mother like daughter... or son!
Yes, the wide array of experiences babies can have during labor and delivery leaves plenty for expectant mothers to agonize over. But here's the good news: it's not necessary! Research strongly shows that children's memories don't begin to develop until they are two or three years old, as per Fatherly. Need more proof? Both Fatherly and Healthline point to Jill Price as an example. The California woman has a rare condition called hyperthymesia, which refers to her impeccable memory and ability to remember specific details and events over the course of her life. However, even with her extraordinary ability, Jill has no recollection of any events that occurred before she was two years old.
References: Splinter News, Sutter Health, American Pregnancy Association, SheKnows, Baby Med, Scary Mommy, Mothering, Splinter News, Splinter News, What to Expect, The National, Mother & Baby UK, Parents, BabyCenter, Bellybelly, Parents, Parents, Parents, Parents, Medline Plus, Parents, Fatherly, Fatherly, Healthline