For a life-changing event such as bringing a baby into the world, information and a community are reassuring and crucial. Yet when it comes to childbirth, there's a reticence about sharing information.
There are still those things that can occur, which aren't common knowledge, those things which cause women to go, "I had no idea" or "NOBODY told me about that."
These things might surprise us about childbirth, but are worth knowing.
1. What does it feel like when your waters break?
Often women do not feel this, but notice they are wet - and it can be confused with a moment of incontinence. Some women also say they feel a popping sensation. However it’s also possible to start labor without your water breaking.
Not all women pop their waters as they go into labor, some may only go once in established labor, when it can cause more of a sensation because there is a lot more pressure from the descending head behind the water.
3. And there are 'fore' and 'hind' waters
Fore sit in front of the baby’s head and hind are the waters behind the baby’s head. Sometimes it can be a hind water leak, in which case there will be no real sensation.
4. You'll pass your mucus plug
Also known as the operculum, or commonly known as the 'show', it is the mucus which sits in the cervical canal.
Thought to prevent infection entering the uterus, it is passed through the vagina either before or as labor starts.
It tells us that there is change happening to the cervix and is usually mucoid and can be streaked with blood.
5. How labor feels really does depend
The position of the baby can affect where and how women experience or feel their labor. The start of labor can feel like period pains.
For some women it can feel like a heavy dragging sensation deep in their pelvis and legs.
If the baby is facing the woman’s back then labor is often felt at the front – across the abdomen. Some can feel it like a surge. Contractions can be felt at the top of the uterus before women can 'feel' it.
If the baby is facing to the front with its back to the woman’s spine (known as occipito posterior) then labor can be felt mostly as back ache.
6. Your baby may open their bowels during labor
If the foetus becomes distressed in labor it will open its bowels and pass meconium which will stain the normally clear or straw colored liquor (amniotic fluid) green or black.
Meconium is a soft greenish black sticky substance that sits in the baby’s gut.
It is there from about 16 weeks' gestation and is made up of matter the foetus has swallowed and generated in the intestine during pregnancy.
It is normally passed during the first two days of life and shows the lower gut is open.
7. If you have an epidural, be prepared for a vaginal examination
These are usually undertaken to confirm progress in labor and if the decision is to continue to epidural the membranes are normally ruptured to allow better monitoring of the fetus.
8. ...and potentially reduced mobility
Some epidurals allow you to mobilize but some can cause the legs to feel numb because of the pressure of venous fluid or the increasing impact of the drugs used on the nerves.
This may mean that you are more likely to be confined to a bed.
9. ...as well as a drop in blood pressure
The venous system relaxes in response to the anesthetic.
This can cause an adverse effect on both mother and foetus so fluid needs to be given through a vein in the forearm or the back of the hand (a drip).
10. Epidurals also have an impact on the bladder
Women may also experience difficulty in recognizing they need to empty their bladder, so need to be reminded.
If they cannot pass urine themselves they will need to be catheterized.
This may be intermittently but if it continues it may necessitate an indwelling catheter through the labor. Sometimes an epidural may not work at all, or only partially.
Another effect of epidurals is that women may not recognize they are in the second stage because they do not notice the change in their contractions or experience an urge to push
12. The umbilical cord might get stuck...
When the baby’s head is born the midwife may ask you to stop pushing and pant. Some midwives may feel for the cord around the baby’s neck.
If the cord is felt, an attempt will be made to create a loop of cord to allow delivery of the baby through it.
13. If this isn't possible...
Then the cord may be clamped and cut to allow delivery of the rest of the baby. However, this is increasingly not recommended because touching the cord may interfere with its function.
If the cord is clamped and cut it will not cause any difficulty for the baby but it will mean that it is not possible to have a physiological third stage.
14. The cord rarely breaks in labor
But it may snap when trying to deliver the third stage if it is pulled too hard.
If this happens and there is not enough cord left to continue and maternal effort fails to deliver the placenta, there may be need to manually remove it.
The umbilical cord can stretched or get compressed, leading to brief drops in fetal heart rate.
15. About the umbilical cord itself
It's about 2 cms thick, composed of connective tissue (a jelly like substance known as Wharton's jelly) and covered in amniotic membrane.
It surrounds the umbilical vein and two umbilical arteries. Therefore, it's pretty fairly robust and can take some effort to cut - especially if fully gorged with blood.
But if allowed to stop pulsating before cutting, it will be less engorged and more easily cut with scissors.
16. The impact 'down there' after birth
Eighty-five per cent of women who have a vaginal birth will experience some perineal trauma.
The most common reasons are from haemorrhoids and/or stitches for perineal repair of either a vaginal/perineal tear or repair of an episiotomy (a surgical incision of the perineum to allow delivery).
The advice given below is about perineal trauma but much of it applies to women who suffer from haemorrhoids. Anti-inflammatories and lots of fluids will help after giving birth.
17. Healing times vary in women.
The deeper the tear or cut, the longer it may take to heal. Michelle advises to maintain a good level of hygiene, change sanitary towels every time you use the bathroom.
It may also help to pour water over your stitches at the same time as passing water to dilute your urine and reduce any stinging.
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