It doesn't matter how many pregnancy books litter your nightstand. The same goes for practically earning a master's degree in childbirth prep courses. Even a personal guide drawn up by your best girlfriend can't compare.
When it comes to giving birth to your very own baby, you feel like the only woman in the world who's ever done such a thing. The cool thing (aside from that sweet, sweet baby you're about to meet) is that you couldn't be more mistaken.
By becoming a mother, you my dear, are joining a sisterhood with deeply ancestral roots. Pop out a baby and suddenly the women around you strike up entirely different conversations into which your experiences are automatically welcomed; it's a party trick you can use the rest of your life.
Beginning to think the books weren't really telling the whole story? If you could see us right now, we'd be pointing our fingers right at our noses, 'cause you've nailed it. We'll let you in on a few more things no one tells you about labor, either.
A Drug-Free Labor Won't Be Your Biggest Concern
Although you have probably spent hours debating the use of pain-relieving childbirth drugs and have firmly formed your own opinions as you enter late-stage pregnancy, we suggest you get ready for the big switcharoo. Turns out, the merits of childbirth sans analgesic are difficult to recall when you're in the throes of internal pelvic wrangling with a big-headed baby. Oh sure, it can be done. And there are many women who steer clear of torso-numbing Novocain. But we're offering you an "out."
Childbirth, though natural, hurts. There's just no way around it. Listen to flute music and go to your happy place, but your uterus is still gonna come a-callin'. And you'll do whatever it takes to bring your baby into the world -- which is, after all, the entire point of laboring. It's good to have a plan, but it's all right to change your mind.
Hospitals Are Optional
We're not suggesting you deliver your baby between rows of field corn; there's a reason pioneer days (and birthing methods) are history. However, unless you have medical concerns, you don't have to be confined to a hospital bed, either.
Although the majority of women in the U.S. deliver their babies in hospitals, some give birth at home. The setting, free from medical interventions and their potential side effects, offers a familiar place to labor. The idea is that by being relaxed and calm, childbirth is a smoother experience. Just keep in mind that you'll need to remain flexible. It isn't unusual for a laboring woman to head to the hospital when labor stalls or other complications arise. The truth is, until you've given birth, you really have no idea what it's like and how well you'll cope -- whether at home or in the hospital.
Pushing is a Learned Skill
Sure, it looks easy enough in the movies -- and in that scary Lamaze video you watched. But pushing a baby through your birth canal and out what seems a logistically impossible opening is probably not going to come naturally. Not only will you need a few practice pushes, but you should be prepared to receive some impromptu instruction from a well-meaning attendant.
Unfortunately, this advice (though a helpful visual aid) is likely to stick with you for years, just like a song that you can't get out of your head -- something along the lines of bearing down and how similar the action is to a bowel movement. Which, by the way, is also likely to happen while you're pushing. Before you freak out about evacuating your bowels in front of complete strangers (which might actually be preferable to doing so in front of your mother-in-law), don't worry: Those people in the room wearing the professional-looking scrubs? This isn't their first rodeo. Not only will they not react, they'll simply whisk the poo into a nearby receptacle. And you? There's so much going on down there, you won't even know it happened.
Induced Labor Really Hurts More
Remember what we said about labor hurting? OK, that not-so-shocking nugget wasn't released from the national brain trust. But we're still pretty sure no one's mentioning this one: Running a contraction-inducing cocktail through your preggo veins results in extra pain.
If you get in a rush to debut your baby to the world, the hurt piles on. That's because induced labor is like normal labor on an espresso diet. Contraction-inducing drugs like Pitocin jumpstart and speed the labor process; your cervix is likely to dilate more quickly because of the increased frequency of contractions, and this can make it more difficult to cope using natural methods. Of course, there are plenty of good reasons to induce labor. Doing so could even save your baby's life. But you need to know that if your doc orders a Pitocin drip, you'll feel the squeeze -- squared.
Breastfeeding Doesn't Come Naturally
It should be as simple as putting baby to breast. But for many of us, breastfeeding is a lost art. Our mothers didn't do it and neither did our best girlfriends. So, when we don't know what to do (and clearly, baby isn't sure, either), where can we go for advice? The local lactation consultant. She'll likely take one look at your confused efforts and pinpoint the problem. The result? You won't cry every time baby nurses -- and baby won't, either. Talk about a win-win.
The truth is, even though breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world, it's a learned skill that requires technique and practice. Rest assured, the curve is a steep one. If you can stick it out past Week 3, you'll reap the rewards. No fumbling for bottles and formula in the middle of the night, and when you're on-the-go with baby, you don't have to worry about running out of milk. You've got a convenient, pre-sterilized supply as close as your nursing bra.
Don't Pull Your Hair Out
It's hard to be a new mom, but don't pull your hair out. The truth is, your hair will remove itself (in droves) all on its own. About three months after giving birth, those luxuriously full locks you flipped over your shoulder throughout your pregnancy will begin to shed. And by shed, we're warning you: You may feel like a bird molting its feathers. Before you consider drastic measures, like spray-painting the bald spot you're just sure is forming on the top of your head, take heart: You aren't going bald.
This hair loss is (unfortunately) normal. Turns out, the 100 hairs you would normally shed over the course of a non-pregnant day are getting revenge. Now that you're not pumping extra estrogen, those ten-fold follicles -- and a few extra -- are jumping ship. By the time your baby celebrates her first birthday, your hair will be back to normal.
Giving Birth is Messy
Whether baby heads out your hoo-ha or exits through a scar worth bragging about, giving birth is an indelicate affair. So get ready to get messy. Like us, at the first sign of contractions you may have arisen early, showered, applied makeup and given your hair a blowout. Ready for a red carpet walk into the delivery room, you embark with matching luggage and a beautifully appointed diaper bag (custom-ordered from your Etsy fave). You feel beautiful and in control. For about a hot minute.
Cut to a few hours later: You've got amniotic fluid dripping down your legs and onto the bed, as well as the floor (when -- not if -- your extra padding fails on the way to the toilet). When baby does arrive, he'll likely be covered in vernix (a creamy white substance) and blood, and soon, so will you. And you won't care a bit. If a C-section is in your future, don't be alarmed if the docs wear rubber galoshes like they're expecting a downpour. In a way, they are. There's nothing quite like the gush of amnio from a balloon-like internal sac. You won't wonder why the operating room floor is non-slip, that's for sure.
Don't Check Out Too Quickly
Today's birthing centers (even when they're tucked within the confines of a high-tech hospital) are a far cry from the maternity wards of yesteryear. Many of these roomy hotel suite replicas have a rocking chair, a recliner, a foldout bed for dad and an area for visitors-- not to mention cable TV and Internet access.
Better still are the relaxed dining options. You'll get to select your own well-balanced meals and, after they are hand-delivered, you'll be able to dine while still in bed. Plus, most labor and delivery floors have mini-kitchens equipped with pre-made deli sandwiches and juice.
And, although you insisted on keeping your newborn by your side on the first night, your decision-making skills aren't quite the same at a sleepless 3 a.m. Lucky for you, most delivery suites come with a host of volunteers whose only job is to rock your baby to sleep in the nursery. Plus, a bevy of laws enacted by the U.S. Congress and 41 states require insurance companies to pay for a minimum 48-hour hospital stay after giving birth; longer for C-sections. Just one more reason you shouldn't hurry home.
It is Empowering
You may have a delivery room filled with helpful onlookers, but you're the only one who can really tackle the business at hand. The sudden and irretrievable knowledge that your baby will make his entrance (even if you are alone or have changed your mind) can be a bit unsettling. And empowering.
There's something to be said for digging deep and seeing what you're made of. This phenomenon is also why reality shows featuring blood-sweat-and-tears fitness boot camps are so popular. The next time you watch an episode, look for the common thread: Confidence created by hard work. Having a baby may seem like one big event, but it's actually comprised of dozens of small occurrences rolled into one life-changing arrival. And you're the star of the show.
It Could Be a Breeze
By now, you've probably heard a horror story or two. And we're not talking Halloween fun here, either. There's just something about childbirth-gone-awry that compels women to share their stories with mothers-to-be.
Whether these cautionary tales are comforting or unsettling, only you can decide. But know this: It's entirely possible you'll bypass those 36-hour labors you keep hearing about and be done in a half-hour. Your labor will be as unique as your fingerprint. Like some of us, you may play a card game through most of it, pausing only to do some serious pushing at the end. And, believe it or not, having a baby can be a whole lot of fun. There's nothing more joyous than bringing life into the world where seconds before, no life existed.
HowStuffWorks contributor Cherise Threewitt was due to have her baby in late March. She never knew that meant she'd have her son in the midst of a global pandemic.
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- BabyCenter.com. "Postpartum Hair Loss." July 2006. (Feb. 11, 2011) BabyCenter.com.http://www.babycenter.com/0_postpartum-hair-loss_11721.bc
- Barnhardt, Laura. "When Nursing Doesn't Come Naturally." (Feb. 11, 2011) MarylandFamily.com.http://www.marylandfamilymagazine.com/2009/09/14/when-nursing-doesnt-come-naturally/
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Longer Hospital Stays for Childbirth." (Feb. 11, 2011) CDC.gov.http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/hospbirth/hospbirth.htm
- ChildbirthConnection.org. "Choosing a Place of Birth." (Feb. 11, 2011) ChildbirthConnection.org.http://www.childbirthconnection.org/article.asp?ck=10151
- Davis-Floyd, Robbie. "Pitocin." (Feb. 11, 2011) BirthingNaturally.net.http://www.birthingnaturally.net/barp/pitocin.html
- KidsHealth.org. "A Guide for First Time Parents." (Feb. 11, 2011) KidsHealth.org.http://kidshealth.org/parent/pregnancy_center/preparing_parenthood/guide_parents.html
- KidsHealth.org. "Dealing With Pain During Childbirth." (Feb. 11, 2011). KidsHealth.org.http://kidshealth.org/parent/pregnancy_center/childbirth/childbirth_pain.html
- Kirchheimer, Sid. "Longer Hospital Stays, Healthier Babies?" Dec. 18, 2002. (Feb. 11, 2011) WebMD.com.http://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/news/20021218/longer-hospital-stays-healthier-babies