Pregnant lwoman in hospital gown holding on to bed rail

What I wish I'd know about childbirth

You’ve probably been devouring pregnancy books since you discovered you were pregnant. While books are really good at giving you the big picture view of childbirth, they often leave some of the more specific – embarrassing, messy, shocking – details out. Here are some of the things no one talks about but that you really should know before you head to the delivery room.

You might not feel your water breaking

Some women feel a great gush of amniotic fluid but for most women, there’s only a slow trickle because your baby’s head prevents most of the fluid from coming out all at once.

Your doctor might only be there for the last 15 minutes

It’s the nurse who will be with you throughout the labour while your doctor will drop by to catch the baby and supervise the cutting of the umbilical cord. So don’t expect to be BFFs with your doctor by the time the baby arrives and be nice to your nurse. Cake or cookies dropped off at the nurses’ station when you check in will go a long way to getting you some extra attention later on. As the nurse’s role in your delivery is a big one, if yours is having a bad day and taking it out on you, you can request someone else. Have your husband talk to the supervisor discreetly and they should be able to accommodate you. Only do this as a last resort though. Your cake will only go so far if you’re the patient from hell.

Ask for epidural when you check in

If there’s even the smallest chance that you might want pain relief, put in a request for it immediately. The anaesthesiologists might not be in the hospital. They might be at home on call and since they work on a first-come-first-served basis, get yourself on their list.

You can always refuse the epidural if you don’t need it. But if you do decide you need it, you don’t want to endure another 2 hours of labour pain before you get some relief. Many mums who want a natural birth change their minds during labour so be prepared for this contingency.

Even if you do get your epidural, sometimes it doesn’t work for some women. Some women feel the pain down one side of their body. For some women the pain relief drops in and out like bad mobile reception. These effects are usually not discussed until the anaesthesiologist is just about to administer the epidural, so talk to your doctor about the possible effects beforehand.

You don’t get to eat

It depends on your hospital but you probably won’t be allowed to eat anything while you’re in labour. Hospitals have this policy just in case a caesarean section is necessary and general anaesthesia is required. It may annoy you that your husband is eating chicken rice while all you get is ice chips but most women aren’t really thinking about food when they’re in labour.

Labour can be long and messy

Blood. Sweat. Tears. Gas. And even poop. A lot of embarrassing bodily emissions happen right on the delivery table. Your doctor and nurses have seen it all before and will deal with it discreetly and efficiently, so don’t worry about them. By this time you’ve been pushing for hours (yes, hours), amniotic fluid is running down your legs and all over the floor, so chances are you won’t even notice pooping in front of a roomful of people. It’s safe to say you won’t be able to imagine how exhausting the whole process can be but be prepared to feel like you’re in the middle of a marathon.

Your baby won’t look anything like what you expected

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t feel overwhelming joy the first time you hold your baby. You’re exhausted and your baby is a strange shade of hot pink, covered in yellow, sticky goo with alarmingly red, swollen genitals and a misshapen head. That’s what all newborns look like and your baby will start looking more ‘normal’ every day. Your bond with your baby will strengthen with time too.

You’ll still look pregnant

Your baby bump won’t disappear straight after delivery. It takes time for your body to recover after childbirth. It can take about 2–3 weeks for your uterus to contract and shrink back to its pre-pregnancy size. Then you’ll know what your post-baby body really looks like. So give yourself a few weeks to rest and recover before you start worrying about how to lose the extra padding you’ve gained. If you’re breastfeeding, most of your pregnancy weight should come off quite quickly but it could take up to a year before you’re in the shape you were in before pregnancy.

It might be a breeze

If all these horror stories are freaking you out, relax. Not every woman goes through many hours of labour. For some women, labour is ridiculously painless and easy. Here’s hoping you’re one of those women. But even if you’re not, it helps to know that many women have been through the same experience and that your doctor, nurses and partner are there to help you through it.

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