10 Childbirth Facts
What women should know about giving birth
by Ceridwen Morris | November 16, 2010
Fact 1: It’s not like the movies
In the movies, the water breaks, everyone panics, mom wobbles up, grabs her belly, and on cue has an enormous contraction, then yells for a taxi. In real life, the water usually breaks during labor and if it does break early, there’s no reason to run screaming to the hospital. Real-life labor is really hard, but it’s not one big screaming emergency. Every labor is unique, but perhaps none more “unique” than the mythical Hollywood birth.
Fact 2: Your due date is more like a due month
A full-term pregnancy is anywhere between 37 and 42 weeks. The estimated due date (EDD) is an educated guess, not a firm deadline. The majority of babies are born before or after their due dates; most first-time babies are born an average of four days past the EDD. It can be hard to mentally plan for a whole due month, but a due date is too specific. So, how about a due fortnight?
Fact 3: Labor goes through very distinct phases with different challenges
Labor is not one continuous, unwavering sensation; it’s a dynamic, rhythmic process. Early labor tends to be long but usually easier to deal with than active labor, which generally requires much more focus and pain-coping techniques. Pushing the baby out at the end is another thing entirely and can actually be a welcome change (now you can finally do something!). Learning about the stages of labor helps you prepare for each one in different ways.
Fact 4: An epidural is just one of many ways to cope with labor
There’s a lot of debate about whether getting an epidural is a “good” idea or a “bad” idea. The only answer is: it depends. An early epidural can slow things down and therefore make more medical intervention necessary. But an epidural given after laboring for a very long time (and when mom is completely exhausted) can actually speed up labor and reduce the chances of more interventions. Try to forget “good” and “bad” when it comes to the epidural; instead, educate yourself about the risks and benefits of the drugs and learn other coping techniques, then see how your labor goes.
Fact 5: The philosophy of your care-provider matters. A lot.
Some doctors believe in actively managing the labor, introducing medical technology — from labor induction drugs to continuous fetal monitoring — even before they are necessary. Other care-providers believe labor should unfold on its own and medical intervention should only be brought in if something comes up. The way your labor will be handled has a lot to do with who is handling it; talk to your caregiver now about his or her philosophy of birth. And make sure it matches up to your own.
Fact 6: Your doctor or midwife will not be with you for most of your labor
This often comes as a big surprise to an expecting couple, but it’s common. Doctors and midwives will be on call, advising you when to go to the hospital and will check in on your progress periodically. But for the most part they just show up at the end to catch the baby — midwives tend to be present for longer, but it depends. This is one reason childbirth classes and doulas can be so valuable.
Fact 7: Induced labors are twice as likely to end in C-Section
Expectations to get births moving at an unrealistic pace have led to the overuse of pitocin, which doubles the odds of having a C-section. Pitocin requires monitoring, which means mom cannot move during labor. Yet, changing position can actually help labor progress and help with pain. Bottom line: Try to avoid induction unless it’s medically necessary. [Claire’s note: research whether what the doc’s say, is actually really a ‘medical necessity’ too.]
Fact 8: Staying Home in Early Labor Can Reduce the Chances of a C-section
Barring any specific concerns, there’s no reason to rush to the hospital at the first, or even 50th contraction. You may be turned away if you go in too soon. A good guideline to follow for first pregnancies is 411: Go in when your contractions are four minutes apart, one minute long and have been that way for one hour. Talk about this with your midwife or doctor and call when you know labor has started, but allow your body time at home to really get labor going. [Claire’s note: Timing is all well and good, but I’d advise to go in once you can no longer hold a rational conversation between contractions. That’s when you know things are moving along]
Fact 9: Birth is a normal physiological event
Yeah, contractions can be very intense and the process of birth can seem overwhelming or even impossible, but the fact is, our bodies were built to do it. Unlike other kinds of pain, labor does not indicate that something is wrong or broken. There are things you can do to get through the hard work: Take a childbirth education class, get some good labor support and learn how labor works.
Fact 10: A good birth experience is not about how you do it
Surveys of thousands of mothers have revealed that it’s actually not about whether you got the epidural or didn’t get the epidural that makes birth a positive experience. It’s more about whether you were treated with kindness and respect at a vulnerable time. Women with realistic expectations also tend to be happier with their births. This doesn’t mean low expectations, but rather an understanding of what you can control, and what you can’t. Remember that once we banish the idea of a “perfect” birth, the “imperfect” birth goes with it.