Things they don't tell you about childbirth labour giving birth

Following on from yesterday’s post, I have been compiling a list of things “they” don’t tell you about childbirth. If you are of a nervous disposition, or a man, you may wish to skip this blog post. The world won’t think any less of you for it.
  • One Born Every Minute is a good show, but they only air about 10% of the births they film – the producers openly admit that the majority of births on a day-to-day basis are too boring to bother with. When they put their show together, they’re looking to make entertaining TV, not a realistic portrayal of what most births look like.
  • They don’t always tell you what’s going on. Sometimes they make notes and busy themselves around you, and you’ve no clue what they’re doing.
  • Sometimes if you’re overdue and the doctors are impatient for you to give birth, for whatever reason, they will call you in for a “sweep.” There’s no nice way of putting this: they put their hand inside of you and sweep their fingers across the opening of your uterus, in the hope they will irritate it into doing something.
  • Labour hurts, but it’s bearable. Being induced hurts more, but it’s also bearable. For the most part. That said, always try to avoid being induced if you possibly can. It’s the difference between a gradual build up into a lot of pain, and the sudden onset of a lot of pain.
  • One thing I wasn’t prepared for was the amount of blood when my waters broke, both at the time and in the hours between that and giving birth. I was expecting, well, water. But there was a lot of blood. It wasn’t very pretty.
  • When your waters break, it’s not like someone just empties a bottle of water and it’s over. There are “front” waters and “back” waters and all sorts of other things, which basically means you might have a massive gush, but you’re also likely to just have a constant trickle for a good few hours. Also, your waters might not break at all. Sometimes the midwife/doctor will break them for you when it becomes clear they’re not going on their own. Some babies are born “in the caul” – where the amniotic sac has not been broken during birth. This is very rare though.
  • One thing I didn’t realise, is that they put you in a room with one of those gym balls and a bed, and just sort of leave you to it. I mean, you can be left in that room for a couple of hours at a time between visits. Turns out it might be the biggest thing going on in your life, but to them it’s just another day at the office. Look on the bright side: if they’re not hanging around, they aren’t worried about you!
  • There tends to be a lot of pressure not to have pain relief. I’ve heard women comparing notes, boasting how far they got before they had any pain relief. Everyone is different; everyone’s pain threshold is different. When your child is 18, nobody will remember whether you had every drug available to you or not.
  • That said, a couple of people have told me they have suffered ongoing back problems from having an epidural.
  • Furthermore, I have been told bad things about Pethidine: specifically, that it is not an adequate pain killer, it makes the baby drowsy for the next day or so, and that often women who have been given it don’t remember holding their baby for the first time. I have no personal experience of it though, and everyone is different with these things. My advice if you’re considering it, would be to ask someone whose opinion you trust: your midwife, a friend, the GP.
  • When you get to the bit between “ouch these contractions quite hurt” and “owwwww push push push” you are sometimes sick. Perhaps people already know this, but I didn’t, and as I sat on the toilet whilst puking into a bowl the midwife was holding, and having a rather painful contraction, I thought perhaps there was something wrong. The midwife laughed and said, “no, it’s just labour.” Nice.
  • Not pushing is harder than pushing. A lot harder. I remember a stage in my labour where they lay me on my side and told me to “just not push” for a while. My response was “I don’t understand how to not push, my body is just doing it!”
  • After about the fifth time, you just accept that the midwife can just fit her hand in there without assistance, and that it’s probably a good thing, considering what is to come. You lose all ladylike modesty and just nod when a new person comes into the room and wants to have a root around up there.
  • When the baby’s head is coming out, it stings your wee hole. You have to just suck it up, and carry on pushing – but that area can sting and feel bruised for weeks afterwards.
  • One friend said to me, “don’t eat anything solid for the last few days of pregnancy, unless the baby is not the only thing you want to push out!” It’s true; while your body is busy trying to push a baby out of one hole, sometimes it pushes other things out of other holes. Just keep reminding yourself that midwives deal with this all day, every day, and won’t think you’re disgusting. They probably won’t even mention it.
  • After you give birth to the baby, you have to give birth to the placenta. And there’s not much to look forward to where that one is concerned. Unless you are interested to see what has been providing sustenance for your baby for the past 9 months. Mine looked like a great big tray of fresh liver, and the people in the room did indeed spend a fair amount of time admiring it.
  • There is a way to put a “clip” on the baby’s head, while it is still inside of you, so that they can monitor its heart beat. I have no idea how, and it freaked me out more than slightly, but when they are born you can’t tell it was ever there. Magic.
  • Sometimes, because they have been squeezed out along the birth canal, babies can have a fairly funny-shaped head. This is why babies’ skull bones are not fused together until they are a little older. Trust me: they go back to normal head-shape eventually.
  • When it’s all finished, and you’re holding your little bundle of joy, don’t be alarmed to look up and realise the room looks like a crime scene. Birth is messy. A lot more messy than any TV show, even One Born Every Minute, would ever have you believe.
  • Once you’ve given birth, if there are any tears or stitches involved, a warm salt bath can apparently be amazingly soothing for them. I’ve no personal experience of this, but several people have told me.
  • If you end up having to have an emergency C-Section, I’m told there is little more terrifying in life. By the time they decide a C-Section is the only course of action, the baby can often be in distress, and this means they don’t always have time to explain to you what is going on. I have also spoken to someone who works in theatres though, who quoted me a ridiculously short time for how long it took them from the woman being on the labour ward to them having her in theatre and the baby out. She was very pleased with that one, and rightly so too.
  • No matter what anyone tells you is right or wrong, possible or impossible, every single pregnancy and birth are different. Nobody can tell you that your experience was easier or worse than theirs, or that you should have done this or that differently. If they try to, walk away.
  • One thing I found interesting while researching this post is that all women in the EU have the right to choose where and how they give birth. That doesn’t just mean the option to have a home birth, but about what goes on in a hospital birth too, whether they want a C-Section etc. You can find out more from Freedom for Birth here. 

This post is part of a group of Things They Don’t Tell You About… posts. The others are:

Things They Don’t Tell You About Pregnancy

Things They Don’t Tell You About Breastfeeding
Things They Don’t Tell You About Motherhood
Things They Don’t Tell You About Babies

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    Vicky is a mother, a blogger, a podcaster and a social media trainer. She writes about life as a single mother, parenting and lifestyle type things.


    Anonymous · 01/10/2012 at 19:06

    I haven't had kids but I felt myself crossing my legs in pain whilst reading this!! But thank you, it was very insightful :) x

    Caroline · 03/10/2012 at 21:17

    I haven't had children either and I have to admit I'm terrified about the idea of childbirth! In a way reading all this makes me even more scared but I know that actually it's far better to have a realistic idea of what it's going to be like. And the fact that you're still standing, and smiling, means it can't be that bad, at least once it's over! Just out of interest

      Vicky Charles · 04/10/2012 at 08:09

      Wow, I just hooked out the notes they sent me home with from the hospital, and it quotes 39 hours. It wasn't really 39 hours though – my waters broke and I had contractions, but then it stopped for a few hours, then started again, and then they induced me. I think I was only pushing for an hour or so. My contractions were just like really bad period pains, and it only hurt so much because I

    emily bowles · 04/10/2012 at 11:20

    Really interesting post Vicky :) some of the stuff I already got told when they brought young mums into my secondary school- probably as a deterrent! I've shared this blog with my best mates sister who is pregnant- I hope she doesn't get too scared! :D

      Vicky Charles · 04/10/2012 at 12:55

      Ha thanks Emily, I hope she&#39;s not scared by it too! It&#39;s not meant to be scary, I found it more scary doing it without anyone telling me these things!<br />One of the first things I said when I&#39;d had Samaire was that they should bring teenage girls into a labour ward to see what the rooms look like afterwards – that would solve the problem of pregnant 13 year olds in a flash!

    thesecretfather · 23/05/2013 at 20:46

    Great post!<br /><br />While I cannot empathise with any of this (its not physiologically possible!) I can certainly sympathise. <br /><br />The placenta moment rang true for me. I remember that we really werent expecting it to be such a painful struggle to birth the placenta. And we certainly werent expecting it to be so HUGE!<br /><br />And the stitches that my wife had to have after our first

    James Gibson · 06/06/2013 at 12:10

    Fantastic post this everyone actually needs to read this before going in to labour z Wellsone you , I hated them putting the clip on both the boys it looks so nasty ! Best for them to know how babies doing tho ! Will be promoting this for you :-)

    Victoriaaa · 19/07/2013 at 16:22

    Love this, I thought my waters would go and stop, little did I know they would gush for days. Or that back to back babies don&#39;t always take came into the world 7 minutes in.. I was too much in shock to remember to cry or that my OH was in the room! Ooops, I can&#39;t imagine induction x

    SarahMummy · 26/10/2013 at 11:53

    What a fantastic post – informative and entertaining! I must admit I was shocked at the amount of blood first time around – which was actually only a normal amount! Nobody ever told me there would be blood!

    Kerrie McGiveron · 26/10/2013 at 22:02

    This is great for first time mums. I have just read this now as a mother of three and just been nodding along to myself ha – I think I have experienced every single one of these points, or most of them at least! Popped over from #ArchiveDay – what a great idea. :)

    Leanne Rain · 14/12/2013 at 10:23

    I was soooo naïve or dumb when I had my 1st! haha…. I had everything apart from pushing him out, I needed an emergency section :( and boy that&#39;s really scary they have them whipped out in less than 10 mins!

    Sarah Bear =] · 12/04/2014 at 18:18

    I completely agree with everything! Especially the fact that they just kinda leave you to it! And the fact that labour is horrendous, but bearable, although maybe I just had an easy birth! · 02/08/2014 at 18:26

    This is a great post and really informative! I&#39;m one of those weirdos who loved labour. I find people and professionals can be quite secretive about it though which only heightens first time mother&#39;s anxieties about the whole thing.<br />#weekendbloghop

    Emz · 11/02/2015 at 10:17

    Great list! Yes warm salt baths DO help with post vaginal births & my placenta looked like an alien, gross!

    ghostwritermummy · 25/02/2015 at 13:05

    I think not knowing what is going on can be so frightening, and not having things explained can have a negative impact on the whole process. I agree with all of your points, and I think that posts like this are so important for maternity staff to learn from. What we say, how we say it and how we treat people is so so important. Thank you for sharing, and for linking up to #MaternityMatters x

    Things They Don't Tell You About Breastfeeding - Single Mother Ahoy · 17/11/2018 at 20:58

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