Pregnancy and birth can bring an avalanche of changes in a very short period of time. There are a lot of changes that happen with a woman's body, and whether it's the mother's first or fifth pregnancy, she wants to know as much as she can about what's going on and the health of her baby. Doctors have enjoyed a position of knowledge and authority for years, and much of this status is based on the extensive amount of education and training they receive before being allowed to practice their craft and care for patients.
Despite this extensive training and schooling, there are a number of times when women find that the doctor really isn't saying what they actually mean. It may be a case of oversight or generalization. In some rarer cases, a doctor can misspeak because they aren't up to date or informed on the science, or even that they may speak solely based on personal opinion. Sometimes when a doctor isn't saying what they really mean it can cause real harm to the mother or baby, who may have based their expectations or their decisions for care on the word of the doctor.
These situations may happen more than women realize—here are 25 things women may hear their doctors say, when they actually mean something else entirely.
25 This Is The Due Date
At that first doctor visit, many women leave the office with a due date for when their baby will be born, but less than five percent of them will actually give birth on their due date. The biggest problem with the doctor giving a woman her due date is that the term itself is incredibly misleading, according to the BBC. Women think the baby must be born by then, but the doctor really means it as a rough but calculated estimate—around 90% of women give birth in the two weeks before or the two weeks after the due date.
24 I'll Be There For The Birth
It's common for doctors to reassure their pregnant patients that they'll be there not only for the journey through pregnancy, but also for the birth—but no doctor can truly guarantee that. When doctors assure their patients they'll be there for the delivery, they really mean they'll try, as per Parent Map. Doctors would be more accurate if they told their patients that they'll do their best, but if something gets in the way, another competent doctor will be there. There will be times the doctor just can't be there—and it's important they communicate that clearly.
23 Mom Can Labor However She Wants
A lot of doctors pay this phrase lip service, but don't really mean it. Once women arrive in the hospital in labor, the vast majority are placed in a bed on their back. The problem with this position—called the lithotomy position—is that it's a very difficult way to labor for baby. In fact, the World Health Organization stated the lithotomy position is unduly stressful and potentially harmful, according to Babble. Yet doctors and nurses still often pressure patients to stay on their back because it makes it easier for the doctor to see and check.
22 A C-Section Is Safest
Many doctors assure their pregnant patients that not only are C sections routine, but they can actually be safer than a natural delivery. While this may be true for a small segment of high-risk deliveries with complications, it's a statement that hides the true cost of the C section to many other women in terms of health and safety, explains FitPregnancy. As C section rates have risen in the US, so have mortality rates for pregnant women, especially women of color, and the vast majority are not actually medically necessary surgeries.
21 The Medications Won't Hurt Baby
Labor is an intense and painful process for nearly every woman, and because it can also continue for hours or even days, it's common practice especially in hospital to offer pain management and relief. Unfortunately, doctors don't always have a detailed discussion with patients about pain medications. When mothers ask if it'll harm the baby, the doctors often answer that it won't, but that's not totally accurate. Commonly prescribed medications like an epidural, spinal block or even opioids can and do affect the baby during birth, according to the Mayo Clinic.
20 Constant Monitoring Keeps Baby Safe
Doctors know that things can turn from good to bad in a short amount of time and that coupled with a fear of being held responsible for a negative birth outcome can lead to a policy of continuous fetal monitoring during labor and delivery. Doctors often cite hospital policy, or tell their patients that continuous monitoring is necessary for the baby's safety, but mounting evidence makes it clear that continuous fetal monitoring may be doing far more harm than good, as per Evidence Based Birth. False alerts are common and can distort the care decisions hospital staff makes.
19 There Really Aren't Options
While every state in the US has different laws regarding how medical care is provided, pregnant women often find out later on that they weren't informed of all of their options by their doctor. In the UK, midwives attend more than half of all births, but in the US, the number is less than ten percent, according to Parents. Many women feel like their obstetrician discouraged them from looking into whether a midwife would be a good option. Another option frequently absented from the discussion is the role a doula can play advocating in the delivery room.
18 No VBACS Are Safe
The C section rate for many hospitals and regions tops 30%. As more women undergo additional pregnancies after an initial C section, many hospitals and doctors have instituted policies forbidding a v-birth after C section (VBAC), citing the danger of heightened risk, as per Elle. Despite evidence that many women with low-risk pregnancies can deliver safely the traditional v-birth way even after a C section, many doctors will tell patients it's just not possible. Often the real reason is that the doctor or the hospital isn't willing to risk litigation, rather than fear they can't handle a complication.
17 It's Just A Little Cut
Episiotomies used to be standard practice during labor and delivery. The doctor cuts the tissue of the perineum in an effort to create more space for the baby and to prevent tearing, but data has consistently supported that episiotomies take longer to heal than tears and can lead to serious injury, according to NPR. Furthermore, doctors don't always have a medically necessary justification for performing the procedure, yet will either attempt to persuade the laboring woman or in some extreme cases, perform it without consent. Data suggests that an episiotomy is actually necessary less than five percent of the time.
16 We'll Totally Respect The Birth Plan
Although many doctors and hospitals go out of their way to encourage women to develop a birth plan, many laboring moms find that goes right out the window as soon upon entering the hospital in active labor. While a doctor may agree to follow a woman's birth plan to the best of their ability, they often ignore it completely in the hospital even when there are no complications or issues during the labor, as per SELF. Many laboring moms don't realize until too late that a birth plan alone is not an advocate for them and can too easily be pushed aside for the convenience of the hospital staff.
15 “Only Medically Necessary”
Doctors often reassure pregnant women that they prefer to take a hands-off approach to labor and birth, and will only intervene “when medically necessary.” The problem with that is that the doctor ultimately often gets to decide what's medically necessary, even when it actually isn't. Medical interventions are not only on the rise, but they're also potentially harmful to both the mother and the baby, according to The Conversation. A non-essential intervention can lead to a cascade of additional interventions that were only made necessary by the first unnecessary intervention, too often miscategorized as necessary rather than convenient.
14 Vaccines Are Perfectly Safe For All
It's standard procedure for doctors to immunize babies often within moments of birth, and from then on throughout childhood. In recent years, some parents and advocacy groups have raised concerns about potentially harmful side effects of vaccines.
Most doctors are quick to dismiss these concerns, citing the body of evidence showing reduced incidences of the diseases for which vaccines are administered, as per History Of Vaccines. But much of that evidence hasn't employed true placebos or controls in their studies—which are largely funded by the very pharmaceutical companies who profit from the vaccines. What doctors really mean to say is they think the benefits outweigh the risks.
13 We Need A Baseline
Cervical exams during pregnancy are at the very least uncomfortable and for many women they're traumatic, but pregnant women routinely undergo these exams because they're told by their doctors that they need to “establish a baseline” or check the cervix for dilation or effacement, according to Evidence Based Birth. What doctors could instead explain to patients is that these exams really serve to satisfy the doctor's curiosity—there is no beneficial medical outcome for a cervical exam. It just tells the doctor whether the cervix has dilated.
12 Everything Will Go Back To Normal
Pregnancy can take an emotional and physical toll, as women watch their bodies change drastically in a relatively short period of time. Often when women ask their doctors if their bodies will ever be the same, many will reassure them that their bodies will go back to normal in time, but that's not exactly the whole story. Some experts explain that doctors should talk about a different or new normal—a pregnancy can lead to permanent physical changes, as per USA Today. Some areas of the skin darken permanently, and bone structure can be affected.
11 We Always Do It This Way
Once a woman has given birth, she's often bewildered by the whirlwind of activity even when the baby is perfectly healthy. If she's present enough to stop someone to ask why all these things are being done to the baby, often the first answer is “we always do it this way.” What the doctors and nurses are really saying is that they fall into a set routine of weighing, measuring, wiping and checking because the routine is helpful for doctors and nurses, as per Mother Rising Birth. Efficiency is prized and routine feels safe and predictable for the staff.
10 The Hospital Is The Best Place For Delivery
Although home births are legal throughout the US, less than one percent of all births are in the home, according to Smithsonian. Doctors and midwives are often unwilling or legally unable to assist a home birth, and usually tell patients that the hospital is the best place, “just in case.” What concerns doctors is having access to emergency medical services—having the baby only a few feet away from intervention feels safer. What many women don't realize is that both birth centers and home births can be just as safe and also include access to those same interventions within minutes.
9 It'll Be Over Soon
It's meant to be reassuring, but no laboring woman ever wants to be told: “it'll be over soon.” Yet doctors frequently attempt to soothe women struggling with the pain and intensity of contractions that it won't last much longer—but there's really no way to know how long labor will be, according to Verywell Family. While family history, baby's position and whether any medical interventions have occurred can influence the length, there's no way to know until it's over. Because doctors can't give a truly accurate answer, they often default to terms like 'soon' or 'eventually'.
8 Mom Is Gaining Too Much/Not Enough
As pregnancy progresses, most women are weighed regularly and counseled based on whether the doctor thinks they're gaining enough, too much or not enough weight. This focus on weight gain or loss during pregnancy can be very difficult for women emotionally or psychologically and diverts attention from what the doctor should really be concerned about, which is nutrition. The quality of nutrition that an expecting mother consumes is far more important to her baby both at birth and in the long term, as per Belly Belly. Weight gain is only one of many factors that influence baby's birth weight.
7 Losses Just Happen
Although many women suffer from the loss of a child—most commonly around the 12th week—many never find out exactly what happened. Doctors often try to console patients by explaining that losses just happen sometimes. What they really mean is that there are so many factors that can lead to a loss, it's not always possible to know why it happened, according to WebMD. While some women are okay emotionally, others suffer from feelings of loss, guilt or sadness and hope for fuller explanations.
6 It's Just Baby Blues
Increasing awareness is bringing the issue of postpartum depression (PPD) to the fore, but doctors are still divided as to whether they should be playing a more active role in screening for PPD, as per KQED. Sometimes pregnant women or new mothers may confide in the doctor or pediatrician, or show other signs or symptoms, which doctors might just chalk up to “the baby blues.” In many women, it's much more than just a temporary down feeling, but many doctors are unsure about stepping in because they may not know where to refer the woman, or insurance may not support meaningful care.
5 Morning Sickness Is Just Part Of The Deal
Many pregnant women experience some form of morning sickness during their first trimester. They're often able to manage it by adjusting their eating habits and timing, but a small but significant portion of women have morning sickness that goes beyond, causing them significant pain. Some doctors may dismiss morning sickness as just part of the pregnancy deal, but this sort of dismissal can be dangerous for women who have developed hyperemesis gravidarum, according to The Washington Post. It can be extreme enough to cause serious complications and often goes undiagnosed because doctors don't recognize it.
4 Recovery Is Six Weeks
We've got it in our heads in the US that it takes six weeks to feel better after giving birth, but the picture is so much more complex than that. Doctors frequently reinforce this belief, telling women that generally by six weeks they're cleared to be intimate and resume normal activities, as per the Huffington Post. Many women don't recover so quickly but still return to work and caranywaythers anyways. Some women's recovery spans several months up to a year or longer. They feel they've done something wrong because they weren't “back to normal” in six weeks.
3 The Baby Won't Feel It
There are a number of procedures that are considered standard care for newborns in hospitals. When new mothers ask about them, they're often assured by their doctor that the newborn doesn't feel pain the way we do because their brains aren't able to process pain in the same way. Newer studies have confirmed what many mothers suspected all along—that newborns do in fact feel the pain of a heel stick or circumcision, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Not only do newborns experience pain, but the trauma can have an effect on their development long-term.
2 All Babies Need This
After the nurses sweep away with the newborn, they check the baby for a myriad of things before handing him back to mom with gooey ointment on baby's eyes. If asked, the doctor or nurse may explain it's to prevent eye infections, or in some cases may say that it's the law in that state. While the ointment application is standard procedure, it's a holdover from when babies were much more likely to be exposed to an STD like gonorrhoea in the birth canal, as per Evidence Based Birth. Exposure now is extremely rare, but doctors still apply ointment routinely and often don't advise mothers that there is no need for it if they don't have gonorrhoea or chlamydia.
1 Everyone Can Breastfeed
Doctors often reassure moms that anyone can breastfeed—they must just be doing something wrong or not be giving it enough time. Women attempting to breastfeed through difficulties can get frustrated and desperate. The truth is that while most women can breastfeed, there are some very real and difficult hurdles that make it very close to impossible for some women to breastfeed, according to Verywell Family. Some women really do have a low milk supply, while others may be ill or have inverted nipples. Some babies may have palate issues that make it difficult to latch properly.
References: BBC, Parent Map, Babble, FitPregnancy, Mayo Clinic, Evidence Based Birth, Parents, Elle, NPR, SELF, The Conversation, History Of Vaccines, Evidence Based Birth, USA Today, Mother Rising Birth, Smithsonian, Verywell Family, Belly Belly, WebMD, KQED, The Washington Post, Huffington Post, Harvard Health Publishing, Evidence Based Birth, Verywell Family