With a first pregnancy, you are probably a bit apprehensive regarding labour and birth. You have read all the books and blogs, packed your hospital bag and think you know what to expect. But there are some things the books, and your friends, won’t tell you.
Losing the plug
At the beginning of pregnancy, mucus, generated by the uterus during ovulation, is accumulated in the cervix. As this mucus thickens, it seals the cervix, protecting the growing baby. As your body gets ready for labour, and your cervix starts to dilate, this plug of thick, gloopy, bloody mucus is pushed out.
You know those movies where the heavily pregnant woman is walking through the shopping centre and her waters break? Statistics show that only 10% of all pregnant women experience the physical rupturing of the amniotic sac before labour. For most of us, it happens during labour itself, either naturally, or with some help from the doctor or midwife. And, if your water does break on its own, it can be a trickle or a huge gush – it’s that unpredictable!
Peeing and farting
Labour and birth is not glamorous. The outcome is beautiful, but the labour – not so much. Your baby manoeuvring his way out of your body puts more pressure on those bits of you that have already been under stress for the past nine months, which may mean that you release a gush of pee or a burst of gas. Don’t worry – the doctors and nurses have seen (and heard) it all before.
You get to wear those attractive hospital gowns that open at the back. You can choose to wear a soft sports bra (should you wish), a sarong, or a T-shirt. But quite frankly, when it comes down to it, the last thing you are worried about is your body hanging out. Firstly, the doctors and nurses have seen it all, and more, before. And, secondly, ideally you want that newborn to go skin-to-skin on your chest immediately after birth. Plus, your nurse will make sure that your dignity is preserved as much as possible, should it be a concern of yours.
You may throw up
Who knew that vomiting during labour is completely normal? Nausea and vomiting is common if you have an epidural, as this can cause a sudden drop in blood pressure. However, throwing up can occur even if you haven’t had an epidural, due to the pain you are experiencing or due to food sitting in your stomach (fun fact: your digestion process usually stops during labour). To keep this to a minimum, eat only light foods during your earliest stages of pregnancy, and only drink clear liquids or ice chips when in active labour.
Your teeth may chatter
According to research conducted by the Harvard Medical School in the States, close to 50% of women complain of shivering and chattering teeth during labour. This has little to do with your body temperature, but rather blood incompatibility between you and your baby. Studies show that a small amount of foetal blood crosses into your bloodstream during labour. If there is a difference between the blood types (if you are type A, and your baby is type B), you may get the shakes and chills.
You change personality
During labour, particularly if you are on limited or no pain medication, you may find that you behave irrationally. A normally calm and centred person may scream, cry, yell, or even swear (at their husband and the doctor). The good news is that this is completely normal and can be explained by science. During labour, there is a shift in your oestrogen and progesterone levels, which can be described as really bad PMS. The best way to avoid this is to prepare for birth as much as possible. While you need to be able to have some leeway in your birth plan in case of unforeseen circumstances, having a plan and attending prenatal classes helps you to stay calmer and more focused during labour.
Once your baby is out, you still need to birth the placenta. When it separates from your uterus on its own, this is easy. But sometimes it needs a little encouragement. This could mean the doctor or midwife massaging your belly, pressing firmly down to help expel the uterus and blood clots. The doctor will then thoroughly check the placenta to ensure that nothing has been retained. You will also bleed, a lot, after birth.
Is that really mine?
Hollywood movies have done us a disservice – we tend to expect that our babies will come out sweet smelling, clean and pretty. The reality is that your baby will be covered with a white sticky substance called vernix that looks a bit like cottage cheese, as well as other bodily fluids and his face will probably be squished up (he has literally been pushed out of a small area). But, to you and your partner – he will be the most beautiful thing you have ever seen – and he is…
Kim Bell is a wife, mother of two teenagers and a lover of research and the way words flow and meld together. She has been in the media industry for over 20 years, and yet still learns more about life from her children everyday. You can learn more about Kim Bell here.