Much information exists for expectant moms about what they can expect during labor and delivery. Of course, other moms who have been through it before are generally more than willing to share their experiences. Naturally, those experiences vary but it's no secret that a whole lot of pain and discomfort is involved.
Some women choose home births, others hospital births, and others seek out a birthing center. Some choose to give birth in a tub while others opt to stand, sit or lie down. Some women deal with an obstetrician, while others choose a midwife. There are a lot of options for women to choose from, and based on their plan they prepare for labor and delivery to the best of their ability. That said, nobody quite understands what it's like until they've been through it themselves.
On the other hand, very little information exists around what labor and delivery is like for a baby. For starters, they can't tell us nor do they remember the experience - and that’s probably a good thing! At the same time, we can begin to glean some information about what the birth experience is like for the unborn baby.
We know a lot of expectant moms wonder how their babies will experience birth. Does it hurt? Is it unpleasant? Do they feel relieved? While it’s impossible to know for certain exactly what it’s like, here we go through 15 likely ways a baby experiences labor and delivery. And don’t worry, it’s not all bad.
15 Lots Of Pressure
As mom experiences contractions, baby will experience them as pressure. Baby may feel like the walls are closing in but this won’t cause much discomfort. Not surprisingly, the pressure will be more intense as labor progresses and contractions get more intense but the fetal body is designed to withstand all of this.
Let’s not forget that a fetus is quite squishable. Their bodies and bones are designed to twist and torque in order to get through the birth canal. The same holds true for their skulls. Their skull bones won’t fuse together for several weeks or months after baby is born. The soft skull means that baby’s head can pass more easily through the birth canal. This is often why babies are born with conical-shaped heads.
The pressure the baby feels is a normal part of birth and is critical to squeezing baby down and out.
14 Stress, But In A Good Way!
Unborn babies most certainly feel a degree of stress during the birth process. We know that mom’s stress levels during pregnancy impact the fetus. In fact high stress levels during pregnancy can increase the chances of things like stillbirth, low baby weight, and premature birth. As a result, there is no doubt that a fetus also feels stress during labor and delivery.
BUT some theories state that this stress during labor and delivery is actually good for the baby! During labor, mom will produce hormones to deal with the pain. This in turn stimulates the baby’s adrenal glands to produce stress hormones. These are the same hormones that are responsible for “fight or flight” which also help the baby begin the transition towards life outside of the womb.
In fact, there is evidence to suggest that the stress of labor is integral in:
- helping the baby breath
- increasing blood flow to them
- boosting their immune systems
We often assume stress is a bad thing, but in the case of labor and delivery it is actually good for the baby.
13 Sleep Cycles
A baby may actually take a nap during labor, particularly if the labor is long and drawn out and/or if it’s medicated. It certainly isn’t unheard of for a mom to have a nap in the early stages of labor and so too might baby.
In fact, it’s quite possibly and likely that your baby will sleep through contractions. It might seem unbelievable to mom who could be in intense pain, but baby doesn’t experience it like that. Now once baby is further down the birth canal and birth is impending, they are much less likely to sleep due to the intensity of the pressure.
Overall, we can expect babies to continue their normal sleep cycles for as long as possible during labor and delivery. This means they might sleep for as many as 50 minutes out of every hour.
12 Distress In And Out Of The Womb
The hope is that most unborn babies won’t experience fetal distress during labor and delivery but it is not uncommon. Approximately one-in-four births are subject to fetal distress. This term generally means that the unborn baby is not receiving enough oxygen, resulting in an abnormal heart rate.
The good news for mom and baby is that the baby’s heart rate will be closely monitored during labor and delivery for this very reason. If a fetus is in distress, it is taken very seriously.
If fetal distress is detected, health care practitioners will likely try one of the following:
- Change mom’s position
- Increase mom’s hydration levels
- Ensure mom has adequate oxygen
- If cord is compressed - insert fluid into the amniotic cavity
- Intravenous treatments
In severe cases, an emergency cesarean section might be performed.
11 Pain When Leaving The Womb
We’d be remiss to suggest that the birth process for a baby is pain free. After all, we know that babies can feel pain in utero and certainly immediately following birth. Further, if you consider that some babies are born with bruises thanks to the use of forceps or the general trauma of birth, it’s very likely that an unborn baby feels some degree of pain during birth.
How much pain? Well that’s a more difficult question to answer. Obviously there are degrees. Some babies suffer broken collar bones or shoulder dystocia in the birth canal which would be much more painful than the average birth, but thankfully these situations are the exception to the rule. For the most part, birth pain is likely minimal for the baby.
Their bodies are built to be squished and for skulls to elongate to get out that narrow passage but still, it’s likely uncomfortable.
One piece of silver lining around fetal pain during birth is that an unborn baby’s pain receptors aren’t fully developed at birth such that any pain they feel is muted. We can certainly take great comfort in the fact that labor and delivery is nowhere near as painful for baby as it is for mom.
10 Mom’s Emotions
It is proven that a fetus feels his/her mother’s moods. This occurs throughout pregnancy which is why it is recommended to keep stress levels in check when moms are expecting so as to not negatively impact her fetus. This is of course easier said than done during labor.
We understand by now that almost everything that passes through an expectant mom gets passed through to the fetus as well. A baby can feel stress hormones as well as happiness hormones. In general, when mom is sad, her unborn baby is sad, and when mom is happy, her unborn baby is happy, too. What this means is that they will be riding the wave of emotions right alongside mom during labor.
Don’t worry too much about this. It’s been the case for millions of babies born before and will be for millions in the future too.
9 Effects Of A Medicated Birth
It’s difficult to say with certainty exactly how pain relief for mom during labor and delivery also affects her fetus. What we do know with certainty is that anything passed through mom is also passed through to the baby, so any medication used during labor also enters the baby’s bloodstream via the umbilical cord. In other words, if mom is having a medicated birth, baby is too.
As a result and depending on the pain relief of choice, there could be a mild to moderate effect on the fetus. It isn’t supposed that anesthetics have a stronger effect on the baby than other painkillers. And the truth of the matter is that none of the medications used today for moms are shown to have any long-term effects on mom or baby.
Overall, some forms of medicated birth might induce lethargy in the baby and also might make it more difficult for baby to get into the right position for birth.
8 They Feel Mom’s Voice
As unborn babies develop, they learn the sound of their mother’s voice. This is an important part of baby/mommy bonding because by the time labor and delivery has arrived, an unborn baby is attuned to the sound of his/her mother’s voice.
By about 25-26 weeks gestation, your baby will respond to noises he/she hears outside the womb. Mom’s voice is the clearest because of the vibration that travels down to the baby from inside her body. It has been shown that fetal heart rate slows down in response to mom’s voice, suggesting that not only do they recognize mom's voice but also feel reassured by it. As such, during labor and delivery, baby will be able to hear mom and be comforted by her voice.
There is no doubt that however baby is experiencing labor/delivery, they know something is “up” so sources of comfort are important.
7 They Feel And Hear Mom’s Laughter Too
Most women probably don’t imagine doing a lot laughing during labor, but there is often downtime during labor during which laughter can be great medicine! And if mom laughs during labor, her fetus will feel it too.
A research project in Psychology Today studied fetuses on ultrasounds and witnessed that when pregnant women laugh, their unborn babies bounce up and down. This, in turn, causes the women to laugh harder and, of course, the fetus bounces harder, too. The researchers likened the motion to someone bouncing up and down on a trampoline.
Part of baby’s motion is likely the reaction to small muscle contractions caused by mom’s chortles but it’s nice to think the baby is in on the joke, too.
Given that unborn babies benefit from mom’s “happiness” hormones, we can only assume the same thing happens in spades when mom is laughing. Laughter is such a great antidote to so many things and can be great to combat labor and delivery stress. Plus your unborn baby thinks it’s awesome.
6 That First Breath
Believe it or not, your baby has been “practice” crying in utero so he/she will be fully ready to perform those first baby bellows when it's finally time. When baby finally passes through that narrow birth canal, everyone will strain to hear those first cries. But rest assured, baby isn’t crying because he/she is in pain. The sound of a good cry is a sure sign that the baby’s lungs are healthy.
When your baby cries for the first time, his/her lungs will fill up with air and expand to their full capacity which serves to kick-start the impressive job those lungs have ahead of them. The first cry also helps them to get rid of amniotic fluid in their passages.
Crying at birth gives the impression that babies are born into trauma, and while some argue this is true, crying is actually tantamount to breathing – which of course isn’t about trauma at all.
5 Sensory Overload
Once baby is out, life as they knew it for the last 9 months is over. They have gone from that warm, wet, quiet, soothing environment to the real world. As much as parents might try to control baby’s “new” environment by keeping it serene, it is still vastly different than inside the womb.
Newborns experience a type of sensory overload. Their world is immediately brighter, noisier and colder. Suddenly there are people, colors, shapes, lights, and sounds, etcetera; All of which, a new tiny little human must try to process and make sense of.
Even as adults, we can all relate to being overwhelmed in certain situations but at least we have the emotional maturity to understand what we are trying to process. The same is not true for babies. While it’s impossible for us to actually understand how this feels for a newborn, we can imagine it’s exhausting, confusing and stressful.
4 Temperature Change
One particularly overwhelming experience for baby at birth is the extreme temperature change they go through. The womb is a 98.6 degree environment and an average delivery room, birthing center or house is in the low to mid 70s. One benefit of a water birth is that it helps to mitigate this issue a great deal.
A baby’s thyroid plays a big role in regulating body temperature and it goes into overdrive after birth. This is caused by the immediate exposure to colder air and by the production of adrenaline, both of which help in regulating baby's body temperature.
Of course, baby doesn’t have to do this all on his/her own. Many a mom today practices immediate skin-to-skin contact which helps to keep baby warm and regulate his/her temperature. Blankets also help with the task. And some babies who are having a harder time regulating temp, might be dressed in a wooly hat and sleeper. It’s true!
3 Separation Of Womb And World
While it has long been standard North American practice to separate mom and baby for even just a short time following birth, this is becoming less accepted as the norm today. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the way a baby is handled immediately after birth can help them transition to life outside the womb.
The first hour after birth is becoming more and more recognized for its importance in this transition time. This means delaying weighing, cleaning and other routine procedures in order to immediately place baby directly on mom for that critical skin-to-skin contact.
Mom is the only thing a newborn knows at birth and the trauma of separating them may be causing harm. It is postulated that preserving that first hour after birth for mom and baby to engage wholly in one-another is beneficial for things like:
- Boosting immunity
- Regulating body systems
2 Comfort Only Mom Can Provide
Now that the baby is out and born, he/she is (hopefully) through the worst of any birth trauma and has calmed down and is resting on mom or nursing from her. There are oodles of ways now that baby can receive comfort from his/her parents and he/she will soon learn what it’s like to be cared for in a secure and consistent way.
A newborn baby will benefit and find comfort in skin-to-skin contact and from mom’s soothing voice. But even though mom might be the first to provide this to her newborn, dads and siblings can play a role here too in the ensuing days, weeks and months.
Nursing is another great source of comfort and is a great way for baby and mom to bond. We aren’t going to pretend nursing is always romantic and easy, but getting a good start immediately after birth is a step in the right direction.
Further, talking to baby in a soothing and comforting way provides them with the reassurance that the voice they grew to know and love in utero is still present with them.
1 Attachment And Love
Now that baby is born, the attachment that began in utero can continue outside as well. As we’ve discussed, during their time in utero - babies hear, feel, and even smell their mothers, which begins the very early process of attachment. Your baby started familiarizing him/herself with you from the moment he/she began growing inside you.
From the first few moments in the delivery room, mom reassures baby that she is there via her comfort, her warmth and by nurturing her newborn, thus fostering that in-person attachment. Now that baby is born, this attachment grows, facilitated by a safe and loving relationship.
Attachment and love are different, no doubt, but from attachment grows love. There is no doubt that baby feels your emotion and love, and gains great comfort in it. You’ve both just been through a monumental experience deserving of hero status, and now it’s time to fully embrace parenthood and the love that comes with it.