What I Wish I Knew Before Giving Birth

My water broke on the evening of July 12, 2013. I was at the movies with my husband. We were snacking on pre-show popcorn — sitting and chatting in the lobby about life and everything that would soon come to be — when I felt a trickle. My crotch and underwear dampened, but were hardly soaked, so I figured this couldn’t be the real thing.

I honestly didn’t think much of it; I assumed that if my water broke, there would be a huge gush of fluid. But I was wrong: According to childbirth educator Amy Burns, that Hollywood-esque portrayal is all wrong. “Approximately one in 12 pregnant moms will have their water break before labor begins,” Burns told SheKnows, and while “you may feel a strong gush of fluid, [many] feel only a trickle… like you peed a little.”

Here are nine other things I really, really wish I had known about labor and delivery before I actually gave birth.

You probably won’t be allowed to eat anything once you’re admitted to the hospital.

While you may not be hungry during labor, it is important to know that once you’re admitted, you cannot consume anything but ice chips — at least in most hospitals. The reason? According to UT Southwestern Medical Center, the concern is that you may end up needing a C-section and vomit and/or aspirate while under anesthesia. The good news is this fact has largely been disproven: According to a 2015 study by the American Society of Anesthesiologists, a light meal may actually help during childbirth. However, many facilities still restrict food intake. So if you have an appetite when contractions start, grab a quick bite. If not, you’ll be hurting and hangry.

Birth plans are great, but they are not a guarantee.

From giving you perspective to a greater sense of control, there are many benefits to a birth plan. In my case, mapping the day out helped reduce my anxiety during pregnancy. It also ensured everyone knew my allergies, medical history and what my wishes were, in case I ended up unable to verbalize them myself. But as nice as any plan is, it can easily go awry. According to the Cleveland Clinic, birth plans should be realistic, flexible and ever-evolving: “One plan does not fit all and each woman’s labor and birth is unique,” the Clinic’s site states.

Raw Photos Capture Real Life Childbirth
Image: Lauren Jolly Photography. Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows.

Don’t stress about your hospital bag. Chances are you won’t touch it for 24 hours or more.

Before my daughter was born, everyone stressed the importance of having a “go” bag, or hospital bag. In fact, educators and pregnancy publications suggested I pack it between my 32nd and 36th week, and so I did. I filled an oversized backpack with nursing bras and pads, slippers, a robe, diapers, onesies, lip balm and a cell phone charger. I also had hair ties, a hair brush, toiletries, water and snacks. But in reality? I didn’t touch my bag until I was a full day postpartum. And even then, I used few of the suggested supplies. So while yes, it’s a great idea to keep a few essentials in your car, don’t stress. Most hospitals provide receiving blankets, onesies, hats, diapers, wipes, slipper socks and postpartum care items, and you can always have your partner or loved one run home for essentials after birth.

It is possible to poop during delivery.

Many expectant moms fear that when they push out their baby, they will also push out poo — and for good reason. Bowel movements are common during delivery. (I cannot tell you how many times I Googled the phrase “how to prevent poop during childbirth.”) But it’s not as bad or embarrassing as it sounds. Laurie MacLeod, a certified nurse midwife at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells SheKnows that passing stool during delivery “is a normal physiologic process, and we do not pay much attention to it as care providers… we simply wipe the stool away and minimize anyone else noticing it as much as possible.” What’s more, having a bowel movement during childbirth is actually a good sign. “[It] reassures me that a patient is pushing effectively,” MacLeod says.

Too Many Black Women Still Die in Childbirth
Image: Steve Cole/Getty Images. Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows.

You may also puke.

While most associate puking with early pregnancy — after all, morning sickness is common during the first trimester — some women will throw up during delivery. According to Baby Med, vomiting can indicate the onset of labor and symptoms may increase as contractions intensify. Epidurals can also cause abdominal discomfort and nausea.

Perineal tears can (and do) happen.

Perineal tears, or vaginal tears, occur when the skin surrounding the birth canal stretches too quickly — which, according to a 2013 study, happens in most cases. As many as 85 percent of birth mothers will tear during vaginal birth. And while some doctors and patients believe in giving and/or receiving an episiotomy — a preemptive perineal cut — research has proven that episiotomies do more harm than good. That said, some birthing parents will still “rip” (I experienced second-degree tears during the births of both of my children). If a perineal tear occurs while you’re giving birth, be extra mindful of how you care for yourself and your wound postpartum — and take extra time to heal. 

Pregnant woman in hospital gown
Image: Antonio Diaz/Shutterstock. Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows.

Postpartum contractions can be just as painful as pre-birth contractions.

Postpartum pains — also known as uterine contractions or afterbirth contractions — occur in the hours and days following delivery. The reason for the pain is simple: According to Baby Center, the tightening and/or cramping sensation is caused by the shrinking of your uterus. The good news is that first-time moms rarely feel afterpains. (I didn’t.) But postpartum abdominal discomfort tends to increase with each subsequent delivery.

Speaking of post-birth, did you know you have to deliver…more than just a baby?

While you may welcome your wee one to the world with tears of joy and/or a sigh of relief, don’t settle down just yet: You still have to deliver the placenta. A retained placenta can cause bleeding and other unwanted side effects. Thankfully, delivery is quick; most birthing parents pass the placenta in five minutes or less, and it’s usually relatively painless.

Placental delivery only occurs following vaginal delivery; if you deliver via cesarean, your doctor will remove the placenta.

You will be wearing a “diaper” after delivery. Here’s how to pack it.

After giving birth, your entire pelvis will be sore. Scratch that: You will probably feel like you’ve been hit by a truck. You will also be bleeding…a lot. To alleviate discomfort and keep you clean, labor and delivery nurses will likely build you a postpartum “diaper” out of mesh panties, sanitary napkins and witch hazel. They may also give you an ice pack, a.k.a. a frozen pad.

But how do you make the “diapers” yourself once you head home? Layer several hospital-strength pads inside your disposable underwear. (I personally found that creating a rectangle, with two in front and two in the back, was most helpful.) Line said pads with four to six witch hazel pads, like Thayer’s or Tucks, and then slide your disposable underwear on. You can also look into purchasing a postpartum care kit, like this one from FridaMom.

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