14 Truths No One Tells You About Giving Birth
Don't believe everything you've heard about giving birth. Labor and delivery nurses share insider tips, stories, and advice about what it's really like to go into labor and give birth.
Advice for expecting parents
Giving birth can be one of the most momentous occasions in a person’s life, although the amount of information available about the experience can be both overwhelming—too much information—and not enough. Here, labor and delivery nurses share their insider tips, favorite stories, and advice for expectant mothers and their partners (if you have one).
You shouldn’t get tied to a birth plan
Preparing a birth plan—whether you want to have a natural birth, the type of music playing, who will cut the umbilical cord—can be helpful in structuring the birth hypothetically, but labor and delivery (L&D) nurses caution against being too attached to it. “We always joke, the longer the birth plan, the more likely you are to get all these interventions,” says Suzanne Ketchem, an obstetrician nurse and regional director of women’s, infants,’ and pediatric services for Northern Colorado at Banner Health. What actually happens during the birthing process can be unpredictable, and it’s better to go with the flow for giving birth than get hung up on what hasn’t gone as expected. “It really doesn’t matter in the scheme of things,” says Ketchem. “You’re going to get a healthy baby. You’ll be an awesome mom.”
Really, don’t get hung up on a birth plan
Even if you plan for a C-section, there are no guarantees. “This woman came in and she was scheduled for a C-section on Christmas Day. She was laboring a little bit and felt pressure, so thought she needed to have a bowel movement,” says Barbara Williams, a now-retired L&D nurse at Overlake Hospital in Bellevue, Washington. “She ended up having her baby on the toilet and was so excited because she was going to get ready for her C-section and had a vaginal birth instead.”
You can laugh it off
No longer just a fixture in dentists’ offices, laughing gas is making its way into delivery rooms as a way for women to manage and regulate their own pain while giving birth without using an epidural. “We call it ‘laughing through labor,'” says Dixie Weber, an L&D nurse at St. Luke’s Health System. “It comes in a mask, and the woman holds the mask when she has contractions and puts it down when the contraction ends. It takes the edge off.”
Keeping the placenta is fine; just don’t go overboard
Taking home the placenta isn’t an uncommon request in the L&D ward, but there’s a not-so-fine line between personal preferences and impeding the hospital’s staff’s ability to do their job. “The weirdest request we’ve had, that we had to decline, was they wanted to cook [the placenta] in the hospital,” says Ketchem. “They wanted us to take it right after birth and not allow it to dry, and they had this whole recipe of how it had to be served. Usually we bag it and give it to them when they go home, if they want it.” If saving your placenta is something you’re interested in, speak to your doctor ahead of time.
There are many prenatal-class offerings to check out
Exploring your options among the wide range of prenatal classes, traditional and not, can help you find one that could not just help you prepare for childbirth but also help you feel empowered during it. “There’s hypno-birthing, which helps self-regulate pain. It’s not true hypnosis but helps you manage pain in different way. There’s intuitive birth, or birth through knowing your body. It can be incredibly powerful for some women,” says Weber.
There’s a reason babies are given hats, and it’s not why you think
Sure, the hospital room is colder than the baby’s home for the last nine months, but that’s not the only reason they’re given knitted hats after they’re born. “Sometimes, because Mom’s been pushing for a while, the baby’s head doesn’t look that good. People get alarmed at how long the head can get, but it’s good that it does it so the baby can fit and can be born vaginally.” Elongated heads generally become round after 24 hours. (Here’s how we can prevent and treat birth defects.)
Labor doesn’t always take hours
Movies are cited for being unrealistic in portraying how quickly the birth process happens, but sometimes they may be closer to reality than stories of lengthy labor. “One time, a mom in labor was coming down the hallway to labor room. But she didn’t speak English and no one could understand her. By the time she got to labor room, the baby was being born in her pants!” says Williams. And this type of experience giving birth isn’t uncommon. “Some labors are so fast, women can’t make it to the room and lay down on floor next to nurse’s station to have their baby. Some women can’t make it past the emergency room and have it on the stretcher,” she says.
You should be prepared for a crowd
Whoever said “three’s a crowd” hadn’t spent a lot of time in delivery rooms. While having family and friends around while giving birth is the mother’s choice, don’t be surprised by the number of hospital staff that may end up being present. “A lot of women don’t expect how many caregivers will interact with them,” says Weber. “If you need additional medical help or if something happens, you get a rush of people in the room.”
Full moons and snowstorms keep L&D wards busy
The myth that a full moon will flood the ER ward is a recognized superstition in the L&D ward, too. “We truly believe that full moons and snowstorms bring in more babies. We get a ton of births,” says Ketchem. “More water breaks because of the higher pressure, which can also be irritable to the uterus.” Though it might not be backed up by concrete evidence, some hospitals do tend to increase their staffs during full moons or storms in preparation for the influx of patients.
The whole family needs to know about postpartum depression
About 15 to 20 percent of women deal with postpartum depression, and Weber worries it’s one of the areas that go most undiscussed after childbirth. While it’s important for the new mother to know the signs, it’s equally critical for her family to be aware of what subtle indicators to watch for. “The new mother might not innately recognize that’s struggling, so the families should be taught the signs,” says Weber. (Here’s what OB/GYNs wish you knew about postpartum depression.)
It’s best for babies not to be bathed after birth
While babies used to be bathed immediately after birth, L&D nurses now wait between four and six hours because of vernix, a thick, white substance on the baby’s skin. “We’ve found that it’s really good and helps with immunity and skin temperature. It does a lot of good things for the baby,” says Williams.
It’s probably going to hurt, no matter what
Whether you’re using hypnosis, breathing techniques, laughing gas, or an epidural, giving birth is going to be painful, but that’s nothing to be worried about. “We’ll never be able to take pain away, and you don’t want us to,” says Weber. “You want to be part of the process.” That doesn’t mean steps can’t be taken to alleviate the discomfort and make it more bearable, however.
You should take advantage of what makes you comfortable
The hospital wants to make sure your birth is as comfortable as possible, and there’s a wide range of resources that you shouldn’t hesitate to advantage of. “Take a Jacuzzi,” recommends Williams. “It helps with the pain and prolongs the amount of time before you need pain medicine and have to be in bed.” Sitting on an exercise ball, lounging on the recliner, or roaming the halls can also help combat pain, while watching TV or playing cards can provide a distraction.
Recording the experience right takes time
It goes without saying that having a baby is one of those memories you want to treasure, so prep beforehand to make sure you’re ready to capture the day. “Bring a camera or journal. Take photos of the different phases to have a little album of everything. Take pictures of the dad. Pack food for after the birth and remember to bring some for your partner,” says Williams. Before the big event, brush up on these other new mom myths.
- Suzanne Ketchem, an obstetrician nurse and regional director of women's, infants,' and pediatric services for Northern Colorado at Banner Health
- Barbara Williams, a now-retired L&D nurse at Overlake Hospital in Bellevue, Washington
- Dixie Weber, an L&D nurse at St. Luke's Health System