Knowing what to expect during labour makes for a less stressful delivery, so we’re spilling the beans on some common (but less talked about) scenarios so that you are better prepared. By Kim Bell
We have all seen the movie moments of labour and birth, and you have probably written a number of them into your birth plan, such as bravely working through the pain, music playing in the background, love surrounding you and a serene look on your face as your baby is handed to you in the delivery room.
However, the reality can be very different. The following is not to scare you, but rather to prepare you for those things your friends and family probably haven’t old you about the birthing process.
I remember, while labouring with my first-born, telling my gynae and midwife that it was clear my baby wasn’t ready to come out, and if they could simply push him back up, I would come back another day, when we were both ready. This was said as I tried to throw my considerable weight over the side of the bed to leave. Needless to say, this wasn’t an option, as he was crowning at the time, despite my arguments to the contrary.
Labour is one of the most challenging, exciting and often downright embarrassing times of your life. It is the moment when you feel at your most exposed and vulnerable, but it is also the most powerful and amazing time. You are literally pushing a human being out into the world.
Here are 7 unexpected things to expect in the delivery room:
You are exposed
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
This is quite normal for a number of reasons. This could be your body’s response to the pain, or as a result of food sitting in your stomach (digestion tends to stop during labour). Epidurals can also cause a sudden drop in blood pressure, which in turn may cause nausea, explains the American Society of Anesthesiology. The best way to avoid this is to eat only light foods during the early signs of labour, and to only drink clear liquids when you are in active labour.
Your body will make ghastly noises
To make his way into the world, your baby has to descend through the birth canal. The pressure of the contractions can force air out, and you may pass gas. Unfortunately, there are worse things than passing gas – you may even pee or poop during labour as well. This, say the experts, is purely a space issue. As your baby’s head makes its way through the birth canal, your rectum is flattened and its contents pushed out. And, as embarrassing as it may be for you, these are simply normal body functions for the delivery staff. There is very little they haven’t seen or heard. Again, sticking to clear liquids as soon as you are in labour will help – often, you won’t even be aware of your bodily functions as you are too busy pushing.
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.
Your baby will not be pretty
Your newborn will be covered with birth gunk – blood and a thick white protective layer of a cheese-like substance called vernix. This is perfectly normal.
Once your baby is born – there’s still more
You may feel relief once your baby is born and in your arms, but there is still more – you will need to birth the placenta. This can take five to 15 minutes after your baby is born. You may experience gentle contractions (that you may not even feel) that will separate the placenta from the uterine wall and through the birth canal. Once the placenta is out (it looks like a huge red blob), the doctor will examine it to make sure that it is fully intact and no fragments have been left behind.
The good news is that during labour and birth, your body releases a hormone called oxytocin, known as the “hormone of love”. It’s the same feel-good hormone that is released when breastfeeding. What this means is that, while there are a number of potentially embarrassing (and painful) moments of labour, your body and mind forgets as soon as your newborn is placed in your arms.
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.