Childbirth is a lot of things, but easy isn’t one of them. And whether you’re pregnant for the first time or expanding your family, some nerves are to be expected as your due date approaches.
Preparation is important, but there’s a lot you won’t learn from the typical birthing class or social media.
(The bad news: it can hurt more than is often acknowledged! The good news: you have many more opportunities to prioritize your comfort during labor than you may realize.)
While only you will know how labor feels for you, here are some unspoken truths about giving birth, based on our team’s own experiences.
We hope these insights paint a slightly more accurate, if not messier, picture of the big day and support you in creating the best birth plan for your needs.
Most birthing people find that labor and delivery look a lot different from what you see in the movies, starting with when and how their water breaks.
At some point before delivery, the amniotic sac that has protected your baby all throughout pregnancy may burst.
In many clichéd depictions of labor and delivery in film and television, water breaking comes as a sudden gush just before the start of contractions. The reality is often a bit different.
First, the breaking of water shouldn’t be considered a universal indication that labor has begun. You can go into labor without feeling your water break. In fact, there are many times when it happens after a fair amount of laboring.
The sensation itself can be more subtle than expected. While some people do experience a rapid burst of water, there are many more who feel their water breaking as a steady leak or a slow trickle.
Eating and drinking during childbirth remains a point of debate within the medical community. Back when general anesthesia was common practice during a vaginal birth, it was considered unsafe to consume food or drinks while laboring due to the risk of aspiration.
More recent studies have found that intake of food and beverages may offer benefits during a healthy pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) advises hospitals and birthing centers to allow consumption of clear liquids during labor barring pregnancy complications.
Still, hospital policies about food and drinks during labor can vary. Many people are only allowed to have water, clear liquid, and ice chips during later labor, especially if IV fluids or medication are needed.
Cervical checks, during which a medical professional measures cervix dilation, can be uncomfortable and even painful for many birthing people. Plus, it isn’t the most encouraging to hear that you’re only X centimeters dilated.
While cervical checks are routine practice at many hospitals, they are far from the only way to know where you are in labor. In fact, there’s little clinical evidence supporting their use as the only measurement of labor progression.
Some people do find cervical checks helpful, but you have the right to pass on it if you choose to. You can also request that your doctor do a check without sharing the dilation, in case that doesn’t serve you.
Working one-on-one with a doula, a non-medically trained birthing professional, can help you advocate for your needs and make sure that your care preferences are honored as much as possible during labor.
You are the expert on your own needs, and pain relief during labor is a personal choice. If you are offered pain medication that you don’t want during a hospital birth, you don’t have to take it.
It doesn’t matter if the medication was originally included in your birth plan — you’re allowed to change your mind in the moment.
A doula can support you through this part of childbirth as well. They will advocate on your behalf to your care team and share medication-free strategies for pain relief.
There are three phases of labor, and delivering your baby is only the second. The final stage is delivering the placenta, which typically takes about 30 minutes to an hour. Sometimes a little bit of pushing is needed during this phase, but fortunately contractions slow down as the placenta moves into the birth canal.
Speaking of pain management, giving birth hurts more than is often acknowledged. Yes, pain is subjective, and some birthing people feel it more than others, but it’s a fact that childbirth is a major trauma for your pelvic muscles and tissues.
Pushing isn’t the only source of pain in a vaginal delivery. Some birthing people also experience vaginal tearing or need an episiotomy.
The good news is that there are many things you can do to reduce or manage the pain of childbirth, including working with a doula.
In fact, some steps can be taken even before labor. Regular perineal massage during the final weeks of pregnancy lowers the risk of vaginal tears.
Nobody knows what you need better than you, and Ruth Health is here to support your birthing journey however we can.
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