Common childbirth and labour myths debunked

Posted on October 2nd, 2018

Will labour be more painful the second-time around? Or will you need an episiotomy? We asked the experts to debunk some common myths surrounding childbirth.

Common childbirth and labour myths debunked

Myth: Giving birth naturally is always painful

Truth: While pain during labour is a given, the type of pain varies greatly from woman to woman and labour isn’t always painful for everyone. According to Elana Pearl-Ben Joseph, a paediatrician and medical writer, “Pain during labour is different for every woman. For some, it’s like menstrual cramps; for others, severe pressure; and for others, extremely strong waves that feel like diarrheal cramps.” She explains. “It’s often not the pain of each contraction on its own that women find the hardest, but the fact that the contractions keep coming — and that as labour progresses, there is less and less time between contractions to relax,” she adds.

“Childbirth is far less dramatic than what you see in the movies, and generally a lot slower,” adds midwife, Sister Leigh-Anne Perelson. “But, birth is unpredictable and I have seen the full spectrum – from dramatic emergencies to quiet and gentle water births.”

So, what’s the bottom line? Be as mentally, physically and emotionally prepared as you can be, for whatever comes your way.

ALSO SEE: 15 easy ways to prepare for a natural birth

Myth: You’ll be in labour for hours

Truth: Just as labour pain varies from person to person, so does the duration of labour itself. According to a recent report by the World Health Organisation, the duration of the first stage of labour (which is roughly from when a mom-to-be is 5cm dilated until full dilation at 10cm) doesn’t usually take longer than 12 hours, and not longer than 10 hours for second and third-time moms.

Dr Sarah Buckley, a New-Zealand-trained GP with qualifications in GP-obstetrics and family planning explains that after labour has started, there are certain conditions that will slow or even stop the labour process. If the fight-or-flight hormones are activated by feelings of fear or danger, contractions will slow down. This is the main reason why many practitioners advise staying at home for the first stage of labour, where you are more likely to feel calm.

Myth: You’ll need an episiotomy for natural birth

Truth: This is certainly not always the case and depends largely on the size of your baby as well as the labour process itself. According to the American Pregnancy Association, an episiotomy is a surgical incision that’s used to enlarge the vaginal opening to help deliver a baby and is only necessary if:

  • The birth itself is looming and the perineum hasn’t had time to stretch slowly.
  • Your baby’s head is too large for the vaginal opening
  • Your baby is in distress
  • You need a forceps or vacuum assisted delivery
  • Your baby is breech and there’s a complication during delivery
  • You aren’t able to control your pushing.

Sister Perelson agrees: “An episiotomy isn’t a routine procedure and is only necessary to prevent severe tearing or to enable the birth to be quicker in a case of foetal distress.” If you’re planning on having a natural birth, discuss these issues with your healthcare provider so that you’re both on the same page as to when you’d feel that an episiotomy is necessary.

ALSO SEE: 5 ways to prevent tearing during childbirth

Myth: Birth the second or third time around will be easier

Truth: While labour often is shorter in subsequent births, labour is always unpredictable and complications can arise. This means it’s important to stay calm and be prepared for anything. In some cases, moms experience more pain the second or third time around, as the birth itself can be shorter. “Although I was in labour for a much shorter time with my second little girl and there were no complications, the pain was so much more intense,” says mom of two Rebecca Harrods.

Renee Adair, director of the Australian Doula College, explains that because your body has given birth once before, it knows what to do the second time around. “The body remembers the birth process and muscles have been stretched and opened before, and so labour, particularly the second stage, can be quite quick,” she explains.

However, if you had a particularly traumatic birth the first time, your second labour could feel more intense and painful due to fear and unresolved feelings. And if your second labour is quick, there’s also a chance you might feel overwhelmed, underprepared or out of control.

Myth: An epidural increases the chance of a C-section

Truth: “On the contrary,” says Sister Perelson. “Having an epidural may, in some cases, increase your chances of normal delivery by allowing you to relax and cope with labour.

“However, it may also lead to a relaxed pelvic floor causing your baby not to rotate into the right position for birth. As a result, additional interventions and increased monitoring could be needed, which may lead to an instrumental or C-section birth.”

ALSO SEE: What you need to know about epidurals

Myth: Most home births are transferred to a hospital eventually

Truth: Many low-risk home births happen safely at home, without medical intervention. A recent study revealed that for many low-risk pregnancies, giving birth at home or in a midwifery unit such as Genesis Maternity Clinic, could be just as safe as being in a hospital.

Sister Perelson confirms this. “Having worked as a homebirth midwife for the past 10 years, I can say that very few of my home births required transporting to hospital. In fact, two planned hospital births happened at home. In certain circumstances, you might need to transfer if there is slow or no progress in labour or if your baby is distressed.”

However, in another study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that the perinatal death rate was much higher with planned, out-of-hospital births than with hospital births. So, the bottom line is, while home births are generally safe, there’s always the chance that an emergency occurs and you’ll need to be transported quickly to the hospital. and