Some say that the only thing predictable about birth is that it's unpredictable. Of course, we spend time and effort writing a birth plan (for good reason!), taking a good childbirth class (so important!), and hiring the right care providers (critical!), but in the end, there are so many aspects of birth that are out of your control. Below are the top 10 most surprising things about birth, as experienced during my work as a doula and childbirth educator.
1. Birth can be long. Every birth is different, and while there are some fast births, on average, labor and birth can be 10-20+ hours. And of course, there is no way to predict how long your labor will be! One of the most common questions mom ask in labor is, "How much longer?" If only we could predict that! But unfortunately, even the most seasoned OB or midwife cannot give an accurate estimate. Because the length of birth is unpredictable, it's important to stay hydrated and nourished (yes, it is safe to eat & drink during labor!), and take moments inbetween contractions to rest. Which brings me to my next topic...
2. You can rest inbetween contractions. When a contraction is over, it is over. Depending on how far apart your contractions are, you can take those few minutes to sink into a pillow, the tub, the birth ball and completely relax. Doing this will give your body enough fuel to continue through the next contraction, and the next, and the next...
3. You will muster energy and strength when you think you cannot. Labor and birth is hard and long and exhausting. Even when you feel there is nothing left to give (and you will likely feel like that at some point), you give a little more. This is true for all kinds of births, regardless of method of pain relief.
4. Back labor can be a game changer. "Back labor," which refers to a kind of labor where there is significant pain in the back and typically a longer and/or erratic labor, can be much more challenging that a labor in which baby is in a more optimal position (back labor is caused by baby's position). Know in advance the signs of back labor, take a good childbirth class, and discuss with your care provider and doula the kinds of strategies you can use should this occur.
5. Little changes to your environment make a big difference. In labor, the difference between harsh, fluorescent lighting, beeping machines, and stifling room temperature all can have a big impact on how you feel. If you don't hire a doula, be sure to designate your partner or someone on your birth support team to be in charge of controlling your environment. Elements like low lights (battery operated candles work well), background music, a portable fan or adjusted thermostat, cold wet washcloths, and a closed door will help enhance your your pain relief.
6. Water can provider amazing relief. Whether you're in a standard tub, a birthing tub, or standing in the shower with the water running on your back, most women who have experienced hydrotherapy during labor say they loved it.
7. Cervical checks can be disappointing. Cervical checks during labor usually happen frequently in hospital births. But they don't have to. And you may want to skip out. Checking your cervix and finding out you were only 5cm when were hoping for 8cm can be emotionally frustrating. Plus, knowing your dilation, effacement, and station don't tell you much in the way of how much longer it will be before you meet your baby. Consider the pros and cons of cervical checks, and make an informed decision when the time comes.
8. When it's time to push, your body will take over. Just like pushing during a bowel movement (yep, poop), pushing during birth is instinctual. Your body knows what to do. You don't usually need someone coaching you to "push as hard as you can" to the count of 10, and in fact, this outdated practice can be harmful. You will be surprised at how powerful your body is when you begin pushing.
9. Pushing is the "end," but it is hard and can be long. Many women are so relieved when it's finally time to push. What they are often surprised about is the fact that pushing takes a lot of physical effort, and it can go on for a long time (2-3 hours is not unusual for first time moms). Be sure to try different positions for pushing, stay hydrated, and rest completely inbetween pushes.
10. Your experience in birth matters. Of course it matters that mom and baby are healthy! It also matters how you were supported and treated during your labor and birth. Know as much as you can about your care provider, take a good childbirth class, and hire a doula to increase your chances of a safe, healthy, and respectful birth experience.
What surprised you most about labor and birth?