16 things we wish we’d known about labour

Yes, we did the antenatal class thing but there are definitely still a few things we would have appreciated knowing about...

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Those of us who have gone through childbirth will tell you that nothing can really, truly prepare you for the experience. In fact, even if you’ve had a baby already, there’s no guarantee that the next birth will be in any way similar to one(s) you’ve had before.

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That said, there are definitely a few things the mums posting in our MadeForMums Chat forum and on our Facebook page have told us they wish they’d known about before the big day – just to make them that bit more ready.

Of course, there’s no guarantee your birth will be anything like the ones mentioned here; our mums can only speak for what they went through, after all.

But we think there are some great real-life insights here that are well worth sharing…

1. Your birth plan might not happen

We’re guessing you’re probably aware of this already – either from friends or your midwife or doctor – but we really can’t stress enough, that, while it’s great to set out a birth plan before your due date and share it at one of your antenatal appointments (and with your birth partner), things are quite likely not go quite as you had planned.

So it’s best to be ready to be flexible. Or, even better, to write a birth plan that show you’re planning to be flexible. 

Margotmumdrum says: “I’d go more for ‘birth preferences’ approach, which acknowledges that, despite what you have in mind, it may not always go to plan. And then stick to the important stuff, such as how you’re hoping to feed your baby and whether you want to be told the sex or discover it for yourself?”

And Saisi says: “I didn’t really want a birth plan. I just wanted it to say. ‘Do whatever’s necessary to get the baby out’ as I really don’t know how I’ll be.”

2. It might not be as overwhelming as you think

If you haven’t given birth before and there’s no way of telling how it’s going to go, you can end up feeling pretty daunted by the whole prospect. Take heart, then, from these mums, who told us they actually found labour to be better than they were expecting. 

Natasha N (on Facebook) says: “I expected it to be like a horror show. But, despite being induced with my first and going overdue again with my second, I had very quick labours – so I know I was lucky!”

And Singlemumma (on our Chat forum) says: “I think it went pretty well. The pain wasn’t as horrible as I’d expected.”

3. You may need to be induced

There are various reasons why you might need to be induced (to try to bring on labour, if it’s not happening naturally) but it’s not necessarily something that you’ll have discussed with your midwife as it’s not always part of birth.

One of our mums, katt1906, shares how she had to have pessaries to be induced and said she found “labour was easy compared to that”.  

4. You might need an emergency C-section

Swanny85 tells us: “I wish I’d known what percentage of first time mums actually have to have an emergency C-section… As a first timer, I didn’t really think about it but, when it happened, I sort of panicked a bit because it wasn’t my ‘plan’.”

In the UK, around 26% of births are C-section and, of those, approximately 13% are emergency C-sections. So, while it’s not particularly common, it’s worth knowing that it’s something you might just be required to have.

5. What the pushing is like

Now, unless you have actually been through the pushing experience of giving birth, it’s really hard to explain what it’s like but some mums would have liked to have known a little bit about what it feels like – if it can even be put into words.

Carolineprice27 says:  “I wish I had known the push bit wasn’t because midwife told you it’s time to push but it’s an uncontrollable urge to PUSH lol.”

“I was glad I was told before labour not to use my face and teeth to push (you kind of want to clench your jaw) but to feel yourself pushing from “below” as much as possible and channel the push  down there. It’s the best bit of advice I took into labour with me,” says Tara B.

6. You might do a poo

This is not so much of a ‘secret’ as it used to be but, yes, it’s quite common for a labouring woman to pass some poo while she’s pushing. 

But actually there’s honestly no need to be embarrassed. If it happens, for example, during a water birth, more likely than not your floater will get scooped up while you’re busy with other things like, errr, bringing another human being into the world. And, wherever you are when you’re pushing, you probably won’t even notice if you squeeze anything non-baby out (and, trust us, if you do, you won’t care that much).

Ferb on our forum says: “I am… concerned about doing a poo whilst pushing… My friend has assured me that when giving birth I will however lose all dignity and quite frankly not care less.” Here here to that, we say.

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7. You might need to ‘stand your corner’

Labour can be quite a tricky time. There can be a lot of people involved, including your family, and of course the doctor and midwives that will be on hand.

So, if you have strong ideas for what you want, it might be worth asking someone to speak on your behalf (like your partner) or have everything written down and to hand.

As Jolene G tells us, “I wish I had stood up for myself more towards the doctors and midwives, even just to question their ‘plan of action’. I went into labour 22nd/23rd Dec and it seems they were keen to get me in and out, so tried to speed everything along…”.

Kim P remembers, “Nobody gave me a chance to say what I wanted, like delayed cord clamping and no episiotomy. My labour was pretty fast and nobody cares about your birth plan.”

And Gemma G says, “It was nothing like One Born Every Minute and I didn’t feel very supported. I’m now expecting again and I am going to be way more vocal with the midwives who just sat there last time and didn’t say anything to me!”

8. Your baby’s heart rate might go down

During labour, your baby’s umbilical cord can get stretched or compressed, which, in turn, can lead to the heartbeat dropping. This might be nothing serious but the midwives and medics have to take it seriously.

One of our mums, veryexcited, started with a water birth at home but she tells us, “I got blue lighted to hospital because the baby’s heart rate dropped massively.”

Scary stuff (especially if you’re at home and need to be rushed to hospital) and, if you’re already in hospital, you might find lots of people rushing to your side if you’re hooked up to a monitor and it senses a reduced beat. But this doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem, so, though it’s hard, try not to panic.

9. Your doctor might need instruments to help the baby out

If you’re not prepared for this, it can look pretty scary. But really, it’s all about the doc giving nature – and you – a helping hand. If you’re pushing and the baby’s head is visible but your little one doesn’t quite seem to want to come out, the doctor might use forceps (a bit like a big pair of tongs) or a ventouse (a vacuum extractor) to help her out.

Neither forceps or ventouse are the prettiest looking medical instruments in the world but they’re well designed for their purpose.

WhiteSparkles in our forum tells us, “I had ventouse delivery with both [births]… because I was too tired to push and just needed help.”

10. No two births are the same

Even if you’ve given birth before, previous experiences in no way dictate how things will go next time. “Three births, three different experiences,” says Vicky L. “I was a fool to think they would all be the same. Water birth, C-section, and then last was a fast labour.”

Claire S agrees: “Both mine [were] very different as well. First ended up as an emergency in theatre. Second was a quick water birth and was very calm and perfect.”

And Laura A told us: “Went into hospital in labour with baby number 2 absolutely petrified it would be like my first labour. Couldn’t have been more different. Really enjoyed my second birth experience.”

11. ‘Back to back’ labour can be more painful

If your baby is in a back to back (baby’s back facing the same way as your back) position, the pressure in labour can be felt more on your back than anywhere else – something our mums wish they’d known about about before going into hospital.

Bev H tells us, “I wish a midwife could have explained a back to back labour to me. I had one and it was horrendous.”  Amy Louise W tells us her back to back labour was “very painful”.

If you’re concerned about the pain levels of a back to back birth, it’s worth talking to your midwife and getting something in terms of pain relief written up in your birth plan – in case your baby get into this position before the birth.

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12. It’s OK to be honest if you’re struggling

It’s no secret that childbirth (for most of us) probably isn’t going to be the most pleasant of experiences but it’s also NOT a competition and, if you’re finding it unbearable, you can ask for help.

Heather T says, “There’s no shame in saying you can’t handle the pain. I tried to soldier on for far too long before asking for an epidural and, by that point, there was nobody free to administer one so I didn’t get it.”

13. Staying upright can help

While many cite a walking birth as a great way of speeding labour up, that’s not always possible but it could be that you can stay upright – and that this MIGHT make things move a long quicker.

Gemma A tells us, “I finally realised after number 5 that staying as upright as possible during labour is very helpful! So I stayed sitting up with number 6 and she flew out in 40 minutes!!”

14. How you’ll feel afterwards

Now, this can vary so much: some of us just feel an overwhelming sense of relief; some of us shake and cry with emotion, and some of us just laugh and smile with ‘there’s my baby” joy. Whatever happens with you, we can guarantee it’ll be intense!

“I wish the love you feel when you see baby for first time could be bottled and sold,” says CarolinePrice27

“Nothing can prepare you for how incredible it is, which is why I now get so emotional when I find out a friend or family is expecting,  says Natasha A. “It really is magic.”

15. You’ll have to deliver the placenta

It seems a bit unfair that, after all that hard work of brining your baby into the world, you should actually have to do anything more but cuddle them and recover. BUT the placenta has to come out, too.

“After having my baby I was utterly exhausted. I thought that was it, then the midwife told me the placenta had to come out too. I’d never even heard about that,” says Tanya B.

So, what happens? Mostly, your midwife gives you an injection in your leg as you give birth that speeds up delivery of the placenta, and she’ll then gently pull on the umbilical cord to help you deliver it – usually in around 10 minutes. If you decide not to have the injection and let nature take its course, things will take a little longer – perhaps up to an hour, and you’ll need to help push. Very, very occasionally (in around 2% of cases) the placenta will have to be surgically remember (this is very rare). 

16. How much you’ll bleed afterwards

OK, so this isn’t strictly about labour but, as it’s a side effect of giving birth, we thought we’d mention it.

After having a baby, you’ll probably find you bleed quite heavily for a couple of weeks afterwards, and for up to around 6 weeks in total (it could be more or less). 

“I didn’t get why my mum was so insistent that I packed sanitary towels in my hospital bag – until after having the baby. Then I realised. I’d never even known about that side of things,” says Tanya C.

Nicki H agrees: “Sounds stupid – I knew I would bleed after birth. I just didn’t realise how damn much – nobody ever told me.”

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