10 things you should know about labour
If you’re due to pop shortly and still haven’t done your homework as to what to expect during labour, don’t fret. We’ve boiled it all right down.
IF you’re pregnant, and haven’t had the time (or stomach) to read all those ‘I’m pregnant; what now?’ books, here’s a handy list of 10 things you should know about labour.
Dignified, it isn’t
You may have heard stories of women passing stools during labour. Yes, it happens; the pressure on your pelvic area can push out more than just a baby. Try not to worry; although pooing in front of a stranger is not your idea of normal, it happens all the time. Your midwife will clean it away in a jiffy, no song and dance. According to Prof Fionnuala McAuliffe MD of UCD School of Medicine and Medical Science, “healthcare professionals are very sensitive to this and do all possible to preserve a woman’s dignity”. You will be far too busy to give a, ahem, damn. (General rule: very little bothers you when you’re in labour, other than getting through it.)
Messy, it is
It’s not that uncommon for expectant mothers to get themselves spruced up before hitting the labour ward. You know – removing hair from all parts that will be exposed (ie most of you), applying make-up and wafting deodorant. Yes, you might sashay into the hospital like a movie star, but before long you will be a sweat-sodden, panda-eyed, raving lunatic. And here’s the thing: no one will notice. Save the grooming for somewhere your fabulousness won’t go to waste.
Plan, what plan?
Having a birth plan is a good idea if it makes you feel a bit more in control as you approach the big day. However, there is a strong chance it will suffer the same fate as your dignity and make-up. At the risk of stating the bleedin’ obvious, labour is unpredictable.
Induction hurts… more
There’s no point in pretending otherwise; induced labour is usually more painful. Induction is used in various situations, eg if your waters break and labour does not start within 24 hours (to prevent foetal infection). However, the usual pain relief options are still open to you; don’t hesitate to ask, and the sooner the better.
Pushing isn’t the worst bit
Many references to the pain of childbirth go along the lines of ‘pushing a melon through a hole the size of a plum’. In reality, the pushing bit, though bloody hard work, is generally not the most painful. The feeling of extreme pressure can be alarming, not to mention very uncomfortable, but the worst of the pain is over.
You may need stitches
Women on their first births may end up with a tear to the muscular area between the vagina and back passage. Don’t panic; it will be stitched up immediately (you’ve just pushed a baby out, a few measly stitches will not faze you). According to McAuliffe, tears are less common in subsequent labours. “The tissues have been previously stretched and stretch again easily. Some mothers find that perineal massage during pregnancy helps stretch the tissues and may result in less spontaneous tears.”
You’ll also need stitches if you have an episiotomy (where the area is cut). Although UK clinical guidelines advise against using episiotomies, they are still practised regularly in Irish hospitals.
You probably won’t get to eat
If you were hoping to bring your favourite cream bun into the labour ward, think again. Most medical people won’t let you eat during labour, one reason being in case you need surgery. On the up side, you will be waaay too busy to feel hungry, and pain relief will probably make you feel more like puking than munching.
Your foetus may have an iffy heart rate
It is not uncommon for a foetus to show an irregular heart beat in labour (eg if the umbilical cord gets stretched). This will prompt rapid action, and you might suddenly have four people viewing your nether regions instead of just one. But don’t panic; it does not necessarily mean there is anything serious wrong.
The sanitary towels are massive
Okay, so this is for after labour, but still. If you thought those towels your mother used to wear were big, you ain’t seen nothing until you give birth. Imagine walking around with a cushion between your legs and you’ve got the idea. Necessary though, as you’ll bleed quite a bit in the hours after birth, and to a lesser extent for several weeks.
Breastfeeding might hurt
Slightly cheating again with this one, since you presumably won’t be breastfeeding until after your baby pops out. Nevertheless, if you are a first-time expectant mammy, you may think it’s a case of clamping baby onto nipple. Sometimes it is, but for some it can really, really hurt for days or even weeks. It doesn’t seem fair, given that you’ve just gone through labour, but there you have it.
This article first appeared in Mothers & Babies magazine. To read the supplement online, click here.