It is hard to know what to expect when labor starts since you have never done it before and it is unlike anything you have ever experienced. Every feeling, every sensation, can be alarming. What is normal in labor and what should raise red flags? There are some hard truths about delivery that no one is telling you, but I will.
Here are the top 10 things you should know if you are about to deliver a baby for the first time.
1. You might get sent home if you aren’t considered in “labor.” I promise this is for your benefit!
Lots of first time moms rush to the hospital when they start feeling contractions. Triage will be happy to check you and your baby, but labor in a hospital is considered a “change in cervix.” If there isn’t any change, they’ll send you home to labor more on your own. Don’t be disheartened if this happens. Your house, your bed, freedom to move, eat, drink, shower, and bathe as you please is better than being stuck in a hospital during early labor, which has the potential to linger for days.
2. It’s going to hurt. A lot.
Occasionally, for whatever reason, early labor can last a long time. While epidurals are amazing, most doctors prefer you wait until active labor to get them (usually 3-4 centimeters dilated). This means that you will have to face some of labor on your own, without medications. Preparing for this reality is always better than just hoping it away. It is different from any pain you have been exposed to and will take practice and focus, but I promise you can do it!
3. Pushing can be a LONG process and it is the worst workout ever
First time moms, with an epidural, statistically speaking, push for two to three hours. That is the average. If you push less than that, congratulations! If you push longer, that is ok too. It is tiring, hard and only you can do it. Sleep when you can during labor, you’ll be happy you did when it comes time to push. Remember, no human has come out this exit before and this first baby is paving the way.
4. Pick what you eat carefully, you may see it again
Once labor is underway there might be times of nausea, even if you get an epidural and can’t feel the contractions. This is normal. Ask your nurse for a throw up bag and don’t be afraid, sometimes the act of vomiting moves that baby right on down. In early labor you might want to be cognizant of what you eat, there is the strong possibility it will come up again later.
5. Inductions can take forever. FOREVER!
Going in for an induction is exciting, it is only a matter of time until you meet your baby! Unfortunately, as the hours wear on, some first time Moms (and Dads) can become discouraged. If your cervix isn’t quite ready for labor, the inducing process can be drawn out for hours and even days. Think of it as a marathon, not a sprint. Get comfy in your hospital room, bring snacks and games, download shows or movies you have been wanting to watch and think of it as a fun time to just get to be with your partner.
6. We have no way of knowing when your baby will be born
As a labor and delivery nurse I get asked, “when can we expect to have our baby?” over and over. I always answer the same, “If I could tell you that, then I wouldn’t need to be a nurse.” Every delivery is different. There are times when you expect the labor to go fast and it takes days. Other times, I warn patients that it could be a while and they go from 3 cm dilated to holding their baby in their arms in an hour. It is unpredictable. Be ok with the unknown, it will take such a burden off of you.
7. Due dates are not magical
A due date is an average of how long the human gestates a baby. There is nothing saying that your baby will come sooner or even 2 weeks later than the due date. Either way, if you are keeping up with your prenatal visits, your doctor will make sure that everything is ok with the baby and that your pregnancy is safe to continue on until labor begins.
8. It’s going to keep leaking. And leaking. And leaking.
This is very important so listen carefully, once your water breaks, it will keep leaking until the baby is born. Your body will keep making amniotic fluid as long as a baby is still inside you and with every contraction, every movement you make, everytime you sit or stand, there will be another gush. It feels kinda gross and gets everything wet. Your nurse knows this, isn’t worried about it and will happily clean up any fluid that drips on the ground, get you pads and super cute mesh undies. I promise, it isn’t a big deal.
9. Shakes happen
At some point in your labor, whether you have an epidural or not, you will start to shake or shiver. Your partner will ask if you are cold and you honestly will have no idea. You won’t be able to put your finger on it. I can tell you; you have the labor shakes. It is usually an indicator that things are really starting to happen. A warm blanket can feel nice at this time but it won’t stop the shakes. This uncontrollable reaction is due to the hormones coursing through your body and can last up to 2 hours after having the baby. Try to let go and relax, tensing up will just make you feel sore tomorrow.
10. Push like you are pooping
Every first time Mom has heard the horror story that you might poop on the delivery table. Maybe you will, maybe you won’t. What I can promise you, is that if you don’t push like you are going to poop in front of everyone, your baby isn’t going to come out and you will be pushing for a lot longer. I can also promise that if you do poop, your nurse will very discreetly clean it up and never in a million years tell anyone. It is the solemn oath of every labor and delivery RN to keep that to herself.
Pursue your labor and delivery Today
Having that first baby is a magical time, everything is new and exciting. The most important thing to remember is there is a very broad spectrum of what is normal and lots of unknowns. Keep an open mind, learn to relax, and listen to your body. As long as there have been humans on this planet, babies have been being born.
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I have been educating about and attending labor and deliveries for 15 years, first as a doula and now as a registered nurse. I firmly believe that women should give birth in whatever way makes it a great experience for them. I have 3 of my own children, my first was a cesarean section and my next 2 were VBACs. I breastfed all 3 because I am lazy and didn’t want to make bottles or wash them. I am passionate about education and making sure women understand all options available to them.