Pregnancy and childbirth are both pretty crazy events in a woman’s life. While pregnant, lots of women dread the thought of going into labor and agonize about the physical pain of delivery. Yet near the end of the pregnancy, most women, even the ones who initially feared having to give birth, are pretty much over being pregnant and are ready to get down to business and do whatever it takes to get that baby here!
Labor and delivery both differ from woman to woman. Some women liken the pain of contractions to menstrual cramps; others say it was the worst pain they’ve ever endured. Women who were originally not planning on having an epidural change their minds and pick pain relief. Other mamas feel relieved when it comes time to push because they’re finally in control of what their body can do – and they just want to do it! And thankfully, all that work and pain is worth it once a new mom gets to hold her baby in her arms.
One of the most amazing things about labor is that even though a woman’s body endures some level of physical pain, it’s not a sign that something is wrong. The pain is actually an indication that the body is doing what it’s supposed to be doing to prepare for delivery. The body does some pretty incredible things throughout pregnancy, but some of the things that happen to the body during childbirth are mind-blowing! Read on for some amazing facts about labor and childbirth!
15 Just A Number
When you find out that you’re pregnant, the first thing you want to know (well, besides if it’s going to be a boy or a girl!) is the due date. You may know the exact date of your last menstrual period and have a pretty good idea of the day you conceived, or your doctor may be able to deduce the age of the baby based on its measurements in your uterus, but the thing is… the due date is just an estimate, an educated guess… it’s not a deadline.
A full-term pregnancy is considered anywhere between 37 and 42 weeks. Most babies are born before or after their due dates. Fewer than 10% of babies are born on their exact due date. Are you a first-time mom? First babies are born an average of 4 days past the estimated due date.
It can be hard to wait (and even harder to be “overdue”) when you have a firm date set in your mind, but having a baby before they are full term opens the baby up to several health risks. You might be totally over being pregnant, but it’s best if that bun stays in the oven for as long as possible!
14 The Baby Can Drop Weeks Before Birth
Everybody loves checking out a pregnant gal’s baby bump, especially when she’s getting close to her due date. People may comment that it looks like the baby has “dropped” – this is what’s known as engagement or lightening. The baby has dropped down into the pelvis and is getting ready to head out. For first-time moms, this can happen weeks before contractions start. For moms that have given birth before, it can happen hours before contractions begin, and it’s usually a good idea to make sure that hospital bag is packed!
Whether labor may still be hours (or days or weeks) away, engagement might be a bit of a relief for mom. When the baby drops into her pelvis, it releases pressure on the upper abdomen, making mom literally breathe easier. The only problem is… it might cause lower back or pelvic pain. Whatever the case, labor is coming soon! Be prepared!
13 Hello, Everybody!
Say goodbye to your modesty, and say hello to all the people that will be coming and going through your hospital room while you’re in labor!
You’ll have a labor and delivery nurse (or nurses) to support you throughout your labor and to communicate with the doctor that will be delivering your baby. She’ll check your progression and monitor your vitals – and your baby. You might have the same nurse(s) throughout labor, of if there’s a shift change, you might have to get to know someone else!
Obviously, there will be a doctor present to deliver your baby. Whether or not it’s the doctor you’ve been seeing throughout your pregnancy remains to be seen. Depending on the office that you go to, you might have doctors who rotate their on-call schedule, and there are always emergencies, and well… your doctor could even end up going on vacation. But rest assured that before you deliver, a doctor will come in to introduce themselves and see how you’re doing.
If you plan on receiving any anesthesia during labor, you’ll have a visit from an anesthesiologist and/or a nurse anesthetist. You might also have a nurse or technician come in to set up instruments just before delivery and to assist the doctor. And depending on the hospital, you might also have other staff in the room with you, like a doula (if the hospital allows them), nursery nurse, a neonatologist, or even med students.
12 When Your Water Breaks...
If you’ve seen any movies where a pregnant woman goes into labor, it usually starts with her water breaking like a water balloon has just been tossed at her feet. Then she immediately has a painful contraction, clutches her belly, hails a cab, and hurries off to the hospital!
Except it’s not really like that. A very small number of women experience their water breaking before labor begins. And if it does, it’s more like a gradual, slow leak of amniotic fluid. For some women, their water will break under pressure as they are pushing during labor. And some women’s water doesn’t break at all, requiring the doctor to do it manually.
If you think your water has broken, it’s a good idea to call your doctor right away, especially if you’re not due any time soon. If the fluid seems to be yellow, green, or brown colored, or has a funny smell, let your doctor know immediately.
11 Dilation, Effacement, and Stations - Oh My!
You are probably very familiar with the terms dilation and effacement by now. Dilation is how far your cervix has opened, with 10 centimeters being fully dilated. Effacement is how far your cervix has shortened and thinned out, with 100 percent being fully effaced. As your due date nears and you have a prenatal visit once a week, your doctor will begin to check you for dilation and effacement.
You may also hear your doctor throwing another number around, like negative 1, negative 2, or negative three. The number your doctor is referring to is the baby’s station, or how far the baby’s head has moved down into your pelvis. If your baby has dropped but hasn’t settled into your pelvis, it’s considered a negative station, and is measured in centimeters. The negative measurement goes from -3 to -1. When your baby is settled into the pelvis, this is referred to as a zero station. And then, when your baby starts heading towards the cervix, the numbers go from 1 to 3.
10 Labor Isn't Just One Stage
When you hear talk of a woman “going into labor” it makes it sound like labor is one long, down out event. But it’s actually not. There are different stages of labor and the intensity, duration, and timing of the contractions changes throughout each one.
The first stage is known as early labor. During this phase, the cervix dilates to 3 or 4 centimeters and begins to thin. This phase can last for up to eight hours or even longer, with mild to moderate contractions lasting up to a minute. The contractions can occur every five to 20 minutes, eventually becoming stronger and coming more frequently.
The second stage of labor, active labor, lasts anywhere from two to eight hours. Contractions become longer and stronger and occur more frequently as the cervix dilates to 7 centimeters.
The next phase is transition. This is where the cervix finishes dilating to a full 10 centimeters. Contractions are intense and close together, and you might also feel pain in your back, sides, and thighs.
Then it’s time to push! Although painful, many women feel like it’s a relief to push because it helps to relieve the pressure of the baby in the birth canal. When the baby’s head crowns, or becomes visible, you might experience a burning/stinging sensation as the vaginal opening stretches. More on that later!
9 Pain Relief Isn't Necessarily Foolproof
Many women have strong opinions on whether or not to go for an unmedicated birth vs. receiving pain management. It’s a personal decision, and one that every woman should discuss with her doctor before the big day arrives.
Even if you are considering having an epidural, (or you already have your mind made up that you’re getting the drugs!) the thought of the procedure – which involves sticking a large needle into the fluid around your spinal cord – can be a little intimidating. Yet many women think it’s well worth it if it spares them the pain of labor and delivery.
Something to keep in mind, though, is that there are times when the anesthesia doesn’t work. If the sac containing spinal fluid is somehow scarred or misshapen from surgery, infection, or even just the woman’s anatomy, the medication might not spread. This means that there are limits to how much pain relief the woman will feel.
8 The Cervix Is Magical
Once the cervix is fully dilated and effaced, it kind of… disappears. The cervix is a small organ between the uterus and the vagina. During pregnancy, it’s thick and closed, sealed up with a mucus plug to keep your baby safe inside the uterus. During labor, your contractions start to draw the cervix up into the uterus, and it becomes thinner and opens up. When the cervix is fully dilated at 10 centimeters, the contractions are no longer pulling the cervix up into the uterus; they’re instead pushing the baby into the vagina – and out into the world!
The entire uterus can prolapse after a vaginal delivery; in other words, it can drop down into the vagina. But just as the cervix thins, opens, and stretches on its own to accommodate a baby coming through, the uterus will do its thing to shrink back up and eventually return to its original location in your pelvis. The cervix will also return to its place between the uterus and the vagina.
7 The Pelvis Will Do What Now?
It's astounding at what the female body can do to accommodate a growing baby and then help deliver it into the world. One of the amazing skeletal structures that plays a big role in pregnancy and childbirth is the pelvis.
The pelvis is made up four bones – the two large hip bones that form the sides and meet at the front, and the sacrum and coccyx in the back. The pelvis is very well-designed for pregnancy and childbirth. It cradles and carries your baby while she’s growing and developing in the womb. It protects the reproductive organs, bladder, and intestines
The joint at the front of the pelvis between the two hip bones is the symphosis pubis. During pregnancy, hormones cause your ligaments to soften and stretch, which can cause a slight separation of the joints. This allows for added flexibility so that the baby’s head can pass through the pelvis during delivery. In addition, the female tailbone can also flatten out of the way so that the baby can rotate out through the pelvis.
6 You Might Feel Like You Have To Poo
If you ask a mom what it felt like to give birth, chances are she might tell you that it feels like you really need to go poop. While it might seem gross to compare bringing your baby into the world with having to go number two, there’s not really another way to describe it. You’ve got a 7 or 8-pound baby who is now pressing down hard in your pelvis, your uterus is contracting, there’s a whole lot of pressure down there… and yeah, it kind of feels like you have to poop. Even if you have an epidural and you can’t really feel your contractions, you’ll probably finish a push and then all of a sudden recognize the sensation of feeling like you need to poop. Like, NOW.
With all of that pressure building up, you’ll also feel like you have to push. Not necessarily a forceful push, but enough of a motion to hopefully get that baby moving. Your baby is almost out. It’s also a bit of a relief to know that several more pushes, and it’s all over.
5 You Probably Will Poo
Uh, while we’re on the subject of poo, yes, mama, hate to break it to you, but you will probably poo on the table. That actually happens. But you won’t even be the first woman giving birth THAT DAY to poo on the table. The nurses and doctors won’t care. They won’t be grossed out. They're kind of busy, you know, getting ready to catch a baby. And your awesome labor and delivery nurses have seen it all before and will probably have you all cleaned up before you even know it happened. And you’ll have all kinds of other stuff going on, so if (when) you poo, you won’t have a clue, anyway.
The reason why poo happens during delivery is that you’ve got a big ol’ baby taking up a lot of space in your abdomen and pressing on all of your organs, including your intestines. While you’re trying to push that baby out, you’re also using a lot of the same muscles that you would use when going number two, so you push out a poo, too. Gross? Kind of. Totally normal and the last thing you need to be stressing about minutes before your child is born? YUP.
4 And It Burns, Burns, Burns... The Ring Of Fire
As you push with each contraction, the baby will move further down the birth canal. Each time you ease up on your pushing, the baby slips backwards just a little bit, until finally, the baby’s head begins to emerge through the vaginal opening. This is called crowning. During crowning, you might experience a burning and stretching sensation that some women call the “ring of fire.” Some people consider this one of the most excruciating parts of labor. (Although if you’ve had an epidural, you might experience any pain at all.)
Although you might think pushing with all of your might will speed things up, it helps to relax during this phase to help prevent tearing or lessen the chances of needing an episiotomy. An episiotomy is a surgical cut in the perineum (the area of the skin between the vagina and the rectum) which can help make the baby’s entrance go a little more smoothly.
As painful as it may be, the stretching sensation is brief and usually only lasts a few minutes. Women who have given birth before, or who know to expect this sensation, may take it as a sign that the end is almost near. Once that burning feeling passes, the major part of labor is actually over. The baby’s head is out, and then the rest of the baby’s body will follow.
3 Once The Baby's Out, You Still Have Pushing To Do
Once the baby finally arrives, your delivery isn’t exactly over. You still have to deliver or push out the placenta. Your uterus will continue to contract, and those contractions will eventually help the placenta detach from the uterus. The placenta is usually delivered somewhere from a few minutes to half an hour after birth.
The doctor may help the placenta along by gently tugging on the umbilical cord, pressing down on your abdomen, or giving you a dose of Pitocin through an IV to help your uterus contract. Once the placenta is out, the doctor will inspect it to make sure that no fragments of tissue were left behind. If there were, the doctor will examine your uterus to remove any leftover tissue.
But you might not even be aware that any of this is going on – because you’ll be cuddling your new little one in your arms for the first time.
2 A C-Section Isn't A Picnic Either
Not all C-sections are scheduled for convenience, as some may think, and often, women don’t head for the hospital thinking they’re going to have a C-section. Many women may try to deliver vaginally, meaning that they've labored and even pushed for hours, but a stalled, complicated, or at-risk labor may eventually end in a C-section. The mom has two options to get the baby out; all that matters is that the baby arrives safely and that both mom and baby are healthy.
That being said, a C-section isn’t a walk in the park, either. You’ll have an IV with either an epidural or a spinal block, so that you can be awake, but so that the lower part of your body will be numb. If it’s an emergency C-section, and there is no time to numb you, you may be put under general anesthesia.
Once you’re numbed or asleep, the doctor will make a small incision in your lower abdomen. The doctor will then make another incision in the lower part of your uterus. Amniotic fluid will be suctioned out, and, though you might not exactly feel pain, you will feel some pressure and tugging as the baby is pulled out. You might even feel a suction-y, sucking feeling as the baby is freed.
Just like in a vaginal delivery, the placenta will need to be removed. The doctor will examine the placenta and your reproductive organs before stitching you back up. Your doctor will use absorbable sutures on your uterus and will likely use some form of stitches, staples, or even glue on your abdominal incision.
1 Uterus Goes Back To Normal
Within minutes of delivering your baby, (and the placenta) you’ll still feel contractions. These crampy contractions are known as afterpains. They will close off the open blood vessels where the placenta was attached to your uterus and will help your uterus begin shrinking back to its normal size. This process is called involution of the uterus.
At the end of your pregnancy, your uterus will be about the size of a watermelon and will extend from your pelvis all the way up into the bottom of your rib cage. For the first few days after delivery, you’ll probably be able to feel the top of your uterus somewhere around your belly button. In a week after delivery, your uterus will weigh a little over pound – half of what it weighed when you gave birth. Another week later and your uterus will be back in its original location in your pelvis. A month postpartum, your uterus will be back to its pre-pregnancy size – about as big as an orange!