Plenty of soon-to-be parents are excited about parenthood; few are that psyched about childbirth. Because face it: Labor pains aren't fun no matter how beautiful the miracle of life may be. And far too often, pregnant folks stumble upon hospital horror stories that instantly catapult their already nervous selves into anxiety overdrive. But while most births aren’t easy (and yes, most of them hurt like hell), the good news is they're often totally non-terrifying — and the vast majority have happy outcomes.
Of course, there are parents who have traumatic childbirth experiences, but that's far from the norm. Plenty of parents will honestly tell you that birth was totally fine — even easier than they'd imagined. Their best advice? Just do things your own way. After all, it’s your baby’s entrance into this world.
So, to help ease the anxious minds of future parents, we asked moms to get real about all the silver linings and not-so-terribles that were hallmarks of their labors and deliveries.
“Labor for me was one of those things where I had high expectations and was waiting with bated breath for it to come. Then, when I went into labor and felt all of the things, I thought, 'Oh, that's what they meant.' After all of that waiting and planning, it snuck up on me; my motherly instincts kicked in immediately, and I remembered two of the 300 things my doctor told me: breathe and stay calm. In the end, everything was fine and worked out perfectly.” — Rachel P.
“As a health care professional, I took the advice I give to my patients: I went to every class and read every book. Lesson learned: You don't need to do that. The best advice I can share is to practice relaxation techniques. Breathing helped me the most coupled with essential oils — lavender and eucalyptus. You can't plan how labor will go, but you must trust that your body is able to handle it. The staff at the hospital is there to help you feel comfortable, so don't be afraid to ask for what you need. I got in a tub for about two hours, and that helped keep me calm. Focus on every hour — as each passes, you’ll be more able to trust in your abilities.” — Rubina T.
“Listen to yourself; your body has built-in signals, and if you listen closely, they will tell you a lot, both during delivery and afterwards, when you’re keeping your little human alive. Postpartum, it’s important to know that you have a right to heal. You have a right to talk about your experiences and to receive support. A lot of people will say, ‘Well, at least you have a healthy baby, and that's what really matters.’ That's not entirely true. You matter as well. Find people who can support you, listen to you and give you room to heal so that you can take care of your baby.” — Meghan B.
“My biggest tip for scared moms is to get the epidural and get it early! I barely felt labor with either of my children. While the experience is obviously scary due to all the unknowns, not being in terrible pain from the contractions was a tremendous help during the birthing process.” — Lisa C.
“Even if a birth plan doesn’t carry out to a T, having one set in stone before labor allows the parents to provide their input and makes them feel empowered during the birthing experience. Many expecting parents have no concept of the protocols and procedures having to do with birth until they start writing their plan. When I had a doula for my second and third births, my husband was free to focus on me, but also to take a break without feeling like he was leaving me. When birth interventions were on the table, she was there to help us make informed decisions about which were appropriate for my situation." — Leigh Anne O.
“First of all, having fear about labor is completely normal, so don't try to resist it or push it away; that only makes it bigger. Of course, it doesn't help that most women share their worst horror stories when it comes to giving birth... I’ve had three children and I, too, experienced fear before birthing my kids. Yet when it came down to the actual birthing experience, everything just flowed naturally. I believe the key is to trust your body's wisdom to do what it knows how to do best — just like you don't have to control the different stages of your pregnancy by telling your body or your baby's body when to grow their little toes or beautiful eyes. The same goes for childbirth; you don't need to be afraid or be in control of the process. In fact, the more you can let go and allow it to happen, the easier it becomes, both physically and mentally." — Veronica P.
“You can never really imagine what labor and delivery will be like until you go through it. Of course, it’s wonderful to be as prepared as you can, but nothing can fully prepare you for what will happen, and things can change in an instant, so whatever romantic notion you have of giving birth might as well be thrown out the window. Be open to whatever happens. if you hoped for a drug-free labor but need the meds, take them. If you hoped for a vaginal birth but ended up with a C-section, it’s OK.” — Maria L.
“There is a lot of stigma around using epidurals, but the reality is, a laboring mother should not feel shame in leveraging researched, proven medicine recommended by medical professionals to help get through delivery if needed. Also, make friends with your nurses. At the end of the day, aside from the new mom, the nurses are often the unsung heroes of the delivery room. I come from a family of many sisters whom we joke were built for having babies. Our delivery stories range from funny to somewhat unbelievable, but always practical.” — Kim P.
“When I went to the hospital, I was planning on having an epidural, but because of the back surgery I had the year prior, I wasn’t given one. What helped me more than anything was getting in the shower. I’m not sure why, but it eased labor pains tremendously. Also, ask for nitrous oxide. This helped reduce my anxiety about the pain. You inhale as a contraction comes on and it helps reduce the intensity of the contraction.” — Ashley C.
“Trust her [your body]. If she says you need to walk around, walk. If she says you need to squat and roll your hips, do it. Listen to her; she’ll guide you. Talk to your pain. What you resist persists, so instead, talk to your pain. Going through a contraction is just your little one making his or her way down the birth canal, and he or she is working hard too. Be your baby’s cheerleader. Let him know you’re going through this together. This is your moment to shine as a team. You've got this.” — Kimberly S.
“It took 36 hours for my daughter to come out, and the entire time, I kept refusing epidurals and pain medication [until] I was so exhausted that I finally took something for the pain. It’s OK to have your baby via C-section or vaginally or with or without meds because in the end you get a prize — your baby. Having a child isn’t a competition [as to] who could slug it out in labor the longest or not take medication. It is an amazing experience and your own experience.” — Elizabeth T.
Bottom line: Childbirth isn't easy. But plenty of parents will tell you it's worth it. And however yours plays out, it's only the beginning of the real journey: parenthood.
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