Preparation for baby is key. In the nine months leading up to the big day, mamas-to-be have plenty of time to decorate the nursery, pick out adorable outfits and store up on sleep. Unfortunately, preparation for labor isn’t as straightforward. Expectations of what goes down are often replaced with shocking surprises that make first time moms wonder why no one warned them about worth-mentioning details.
Even with blunt friends and a couple of prenatal classes down my sleeve, I had my share of surprises when my baby boy was born. From the way my contractions began to postpartum recovery and everything in between, many things went down that would have been nice to know beforehand.
My friend was due six months after my son was born, and before she popped out her baby girl, I made sure to lay everything out on the table for her. Besides downplaying how much contractions hurt (a pain that can’t be explained), she was open to receiving all my not-so-glam details.
Truth is, no matter how many stories you hear, every labor is different and it’s best to expect the unexpected. You can never fully be ready for delivery day, but even with a go-with-the-flow attitude, it helps to be mentally prepared for possible outcomes.
By being aware of common experiences, you can at least reduce the shock-factor of an already intense day.
Here are 15 things that happen during labor that no one warns you about …or at least 15 things that I wish someone would have told me.
15 Back Labor Is A Thing
What is back labor you ask? I didn't know either until I started having contractions on my lower back. It turns out I was one of the unlucky 25 percent of women who experience back labor. A term that basically means intense back pain during contractions.
When back labor is caused by a sunny-side-up baby (aka the back of baby's head is pushing on mama's back), it's best to keep moving in hopes that the baby will turn around to relieve the pressure. However sometimes back labor has nothing to do with the position of the baby and happens just because that's the way the cookie crumbled (oh the joys).
It's a good idea to be aware that mild lower back pain at random intervals could be the start of labor. Had I known that, I would have spent more time prepping for the hospital instead of wasting time before full-blown contractions knocked me off my feet.
14 Water Might Break...And Then Break Again Later
Its common knowledge that when a women's water breaks, labor soon follows. Water is code for the fluid that leaks out when a baby’s home (aka amniotic sac) falls apart. This either happens on its own or artificially by a doctor, nurse or midwife to speed up labor.
I was at home when I felt a pop followed by a wet sensation in my underpants. My ninja moves got me to the toilet in time for the rest of the liquid to gush out, but little did I know that my amniotic sac had only partially ruptured. What I thought was a lot of liquid didn't compare to the amount that came pouring out at the hospital, Niagra Falls style. On the bright side, part two didn’t happen on the car ride over.
Like everything else with labor, there is no predicting when and how your water will break. Heads up that if your water breaks on its own, there may be another surprise waiting for you when you least expect it.
13 Mild Contractions Can Switch To Active Labor In A Moment
Knowing when to go to the hospital is key. The last thing you want to do is arrive early only to be sent home. Actually scratch that, the last thing you want is to end up on the news for giving birth in the car.
While mild contractions are far apart and bearable, active labor begins when your contractions are regular, under five minutes apart and obviously painful. Check with your doctor or midwife to know the right time to leave home, but trust me - you'll know.
Some women wake up with full-blown contractions, while others experience mild contractions that could last days before transitioning to the real deal. The latter was the case with me, but there was no transition time.
For over 24 hours, weak pains left me wondering if I was even in labor. Then BOOM – my water broke and two minute apart contractions hit me in the uterus like a ton of bricks.
If you are expecting a steady transition that brings you closer to go-time, know that things could escalate quickly.
12 There's A Good Chance Vomiting Will Be Involved
Everyone talks about morning sickness during pregnancy, but no one mentions that nausea and vomiting are common sidekicks to painful contractions. As if mamas in labor don’t have enough to deal with already.
When I told the nurse that I was on the verge of puking, she gave me a bucket and told me that it’s a normal side-effect to pain. Luckily, I never had to use the bucket and my magical epidural made everything better. Many women aren’t as fortunate.
Pain isn’t the only cause of feeling sick during labor. Epidurals can actually bring on vomiting if there is a sudden drop in blood pressure. Whatever the cause, if you find yourself puking during labor, the most important thing to do is stay hydrated.
Okay, you get it – vomiting can happen during labor, but did you know that vomiting is also common in the days leading up to labor? Along with flu like symptoms, diarrhea, and frequent bowel movements, puking your guts out could mean that labor is just around the corner. This didn’t happen to me, but I thought I would throw it in as a fun fact.
11 Epidural Equals Bed Rest
To get the epidural or not get the epidural… that is the question. Actually for me, the decision to get an epidural was made in 2 seconds without hesitation, but I have mucho respect for anyone who gives birth drug-free.
If you do opt for an epidural, you should know that it’s unsafe to be strolling the halls with your new found energy. Since an epidural can cause numbness in the legs, it’s best to stay put once it's placed.
Looking back, it makes sense that it isn't safe to walk around on something strong enough to turn an excruciatingly painful experience into a breeze. For some reason though, I hadn't thought about it beforehand and it would have been nice to know that I would be stuck in my bed for hours.
If you do find yourself bored while waiting to be fully dilated, appreciate what the meds are masking and enjoy your last few hours of bed chilling before a newborn takes over your life.
10 Eating May Be Banned
Once contractions start, what’s for dinner will probably be the last thing on your mind, but many doctors say no to food during labor. Light snacking, especially early on, is sometimes allowed, but chances are there will be no stuffing your face with pizza and fries until your baby has exited your body.
The main reason doctors prohibit eating is in case there’s a need for an emergency C-section and an empty-belly is needed for surgery. There’s some pro-snacking evidence that challenge this theory, but it’s best to talk to your doctor beforehand to determine if food will be a part of your labor experience.
At the very least, if labor is moving without complications, many doctors will allow you to drink clear liquids. If you’re weird like me and enjoy chewing on ice, that counts as clear liquid.
I was just upset because I packed so many delicious snacks in my hospital bag and then I was told I couldn’t eat them.
9 Epidurals Are Not Foolproof
An epidural is an amazing invention. It might even be my favorite invention of all time. In most cases, epidurals do an incredible job at relieving the terrible pain that accompanies childbirth. However, just like everything else in medicine, sometimes things don’t go according to plan.
When my poor cousin jumped on the epidural for her second baby, her pain stuck around when the epidural didn’t work. Luckily, her case isn’t the norm. In 2004, a study with over 19 thousand patients concluded that 98.8% of the time, the epidural does its job.
In my case, the epidural worked like a charm, but when I was 10 centimeters dilated, my contractions started to get painful again. Rather than increasing the dosage, my nurse told me to tough out the pain to facilitate the pushing stage. In the end, feeling my contractions helped me know when to push.
If you go for the epidural, chances are you’ll have a hallelujah moment when you can breathe again, but it’s good to know that epidurals are not foolproof and you may still feel some pain.
8 Fear Will Kick In
Fear is an essential part of life. Sometimes fear is helpful… like when you’re being chased by a lion, but most of the time fear is the result of your thoughts. For example, when you realize a baby is about to come out of your vagina, fear gets real.
My birth time was predicted to happen around two in the morning, so that’s what I mentally prepared for. When my baby decided that he wanted out six hours earlier, I went into panic mode. I have never been so nervous in my life and my trembling body made that pretty clear. My hubby did a good job at calming me down while the staff set up. Then I shifted into warrior mode to start pushing, but I was still terrified the entire time.
If you find yourself scared shitless at any point, know that it’s completely normal and just part of the game. Fear or no fear, women are superheroes and I promise you’ll get through it.
7 Pushing Can Take Hours
When your baby’s exit root is fully dilated to ten centimeters, the delivery stage can begin. Pushing is one of those things, like everything else, that varies from mom to mom. Some moms sneeze and their baby comes out, and others are left to work for hours.
There are many factors that determine how long pushing will take. For example, it makes sense that a bigger baby will probably require more effort. The average pushing time for first time moms is one to two hours.
Out of all the unexpected events that took place during my labor, this is the one that I was most unprepared for. I was literally under the impression that pushing took a couple of minutes, but the movies lied to me. I ended up pushing for two hours and a suction cup was still needed to get my eight and a half pounder out.
So in case you didn’t get the memo, pushing can take hours.
6 The Urge To Be Naked May Occur
Unless you’re an Ironman triathlon competitor, there’s a good chance pushing your baby out will be the hardest workout of your life. When giving it your all, temperatures in the delivery room can reach an all-time high and the urge to be naked may occur.
I’m not usually a big sweater, but when I was pushing my baby out, I was drenched from head to toe. The nurse kept trying to cover me up with a blanket, but she got the message when I kept throwing it off like a cave women who just wanted to be naked.
The delivery room is not a place to be embarrassed. Even if you normally feel shy bearing it all in front of strangers, odds are you’ll get over it when your baby’s head is halfway out.
If you want to be naked, go for it. Your baby will be naked too. Giving birth is just one big naked party.
5 An Oxygen Mask Might Be Needed
During labor, the baby’s heart rate is monitored. It’s important that the baby receives enough oxygen from their mother to help ensure a smooth delivery.
Since the delivery process is so demanding, many moms experience oxygen deprivation while pushing. A lack of oxygen to the baby can have serious health consequences, but if needed, the use of an oxygen mask on the mother can be helpful in keeping both mama and baby safe.
Pushing can be exhausting. While pushing, I was given an oxygen mask several times to help me catch my breath. Those two hours are a blur, but I remember my doctor talking about my baby's heart being in distress. I’m so thankful that I was in the hands of a good medical team who whipped out the oxygen mask when we needed it most.
Even if you’re a naked superwoman who pushes like a boss, an oxygen mask might be part of the mix.
4 First Comes the Baby, Then Comes The Birth Of The Placenta
Oh the placenta. You can eat it (but don’t). You can plant it in the gown. You can even make a teddy bear out of it. Or you can let the doctors dispose of it like a normal person, but whatever floats your boat.
There are a number of ways to get the placenta out. As in my case, there’s a good chance your doctor will put pressure on your uterus and pull on the cord while asking you to push. I was surprised by how uncomfortable that process was considering I was on an epidural, but by that point, anything goes. The placenta will then be examined to make sure it is intact and there’s no more placenta pieces floating around inside you.
Once everyone (your baby and Mr. placenta) is out of your body, you’re ready to be stitched up and closed for business. Congratulations mama – you did it!
3 Bonding With Baby Isn’t Always Instant
You know in TV shows and movies, when moms gives birth and look fabulous and then they hold their beautiful baby and it’s love at first sight. That’s not always how it goes down in real life.
I was expecting to cry with joy when I met my long-awaited baby, but instead I was left in shock. Like, who are you? Where did you come from? I don’t understand how you were just in my belly for nine months and now you are a person who lives in the world.
When my sister-in-law visited me at the hospital I confessed to her that I didn’t feel a bond with the baby. She reassured me that I wasn’t a horrible person and the same thing happened to her.
If you don’t feel an instant connection with your baby, know that you’re not alone and don't feel bad about it. Give yourself time to get to know your little one – after all, you just met. With time, I promise you’ll fall deeply in love.
2 Toilet Paper Will Be Replaced By A Squirt Bottle
At the hospital or birthing center, you'll be given a squirt bottle. The correct term is peri bottle, but I prefer the term squirt bottle, because that’s exactly what it does. It squirts water on your poor vag after it goes through battle.
Don’t be scared of it. Instead, become best friends with it. Fill it all the way to the top with warm water and spray away after every pee. Whatever you do, don’t forget it at the hospital because you’ll need it for at least a week.
Post-delivery sucked for me. It was literally two weeks of hell, so the slightest bit of relief was nice. Don’t worry - my friend left the hospital stitch-free and top shape, so maybe you’ll get lucky like her.
When I think back to what my poor vag went though, the thought of rubbing it in the face with toilet makes me want to cringe. So just so you know, toilet paper will be replace by a squirt bottle …and you’ll probably like it.
1 There Will Be Blood …For Weeks
Bleeding after childbirth is expected. Bleeding is caused by the open blood vessels that are left behind by the placenta, possibly by wounds if stitches were needed, and maybe even by hemorrhoids, which are common after giving birth. Basically, post-delivery is just a hot mess of blood coming from different directions.
Lochia is the correct term for the bloody discharge that you’ll experience after giving birth. The amount of discharge varies from person to person, but it should always decline as the days and weeks go on. By your six-week postpartum checkup, you should be dried up.
In my case, I was still bleeding when I saw my doctor, but it turns out I had an infection and needed antibiotics. Do not fear - according to my doctor, infections only happen 1% of the time.
I must confess that writing this post brought me back to how much post-delivery sucked. Here's the thing though – Whether you have an easy or hard labor and recovery, it’ll pass, everything will heal and you’ll be fine.
Even the most traumatic experiences fade into a blurry memory and the only thing that really matters is that your little one is healthy as can be. Whatever happens, you'll do great mama.