I’m going to tell you a secret. Not everything you see in the movies is true. Shocking, right? This especially holds true for almost any time you see a pregnant person in labour or giving birth on screen. Somehow their water always breaks while they’re in public, they push for what appears to be a nanosecond, and the newborn miraculously always comes out pink, chubby and clean (and usually looks a little more like a three-month-old!) This is definitely not the case in real life.
Here are five things no one tells you about giving birth that we wish more birthing people and their support people knew about.
Your water doesn't break like in the movies
Spoiler alert: labour rarely starts with your water breaking. Sometimes it does, but that’s not usually the case. In addition, when your water breaks it doesn’t usually burst like a balloon and form a puddle on the ground. In reality, your water will likely break sometime after several hours of labour, and is more likely to be like a constant, steady trickle that can sometimes last for hours, or even days.
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Also, just because your water does break, that does not mean that you have to immediately rush to the hospital (unless you’ve been advised to do so by your medical professional). It can take a while — sometimes a long while — for contractions to start and your cervix to begin dilating after your water breaks.
Sometimes your water doesn’t even break at all and your medical professional may want to break it for you. This procedure is called an amniotomy. The doctor will insert a long, hooked device that looks an awful lot like a long pointy knitting needle up past your cervix, which is then used to carefully break the amniotic sac. Thankfully, because this happens when you are already at least a little dilated, it’s rarely painful.
Labour and birth can cause the shakes
It’s remarkably common for birthing people to experience some kind of shaking or shivering during labour. Few of us, however, are truly prepared and informed on how intense the physical reaction can be. While some people might shake uncontrollably, others will only shake in specific parts of the body like the arms or legs. It’s typical for birthing people to get the shakes around the time of labour transition. It can also continue after birth.
Labour shakes are commonly brought on by hormone changes during labour, as well as physical exertion. However, even those of you who have epidurals and are snoozing during labour will still likely experience the shakes. The most common treatment for them is to cover up the birthing person with blankets and keep her warm. After your baby is born, skin-to-skin contact with your baby will also help.
You may vomit during delivery
We’re all aware that pregnancy can bring about fun symptoms such as nausea and vomiting in the form of morning — otherwise known as “all day” — sickness. However, did you know it’s not uncommon for birthing people to vomit during labour? In fact, feelings of nausea and vomiting could even be an indication of the onset of labour.
Commonly, vomiting will occur as your contractions intensify through the transition phase. Transition is the part of labour that’s right between active labour and when you are about to start pushing. You may even throw up while pushing. But don’t worry! Your labour support people are trained to expect this and will get it all cleaned up quickly. And honestly, if you’re busy pushing a baby out of your body, you likely won’t care about a little vomit.
The truth about butt contractions
Surprisingly few people are told before giving birth that contractions may feel like they need to poop.
But what causes this type of contraction? Well, it is actually pretty logical. As the baby begins to descend during labour, their head puts pressure on your rectum and sacrum (the bone right at the bottom of your spine). So that intense pressure coupled with the ever-strengthening contractions you are already experiencing may result in feeling like you need to poop!
Thankfully, this intense need to empty your bowels during labour is usually actually a sign that it is time to start pushing. And yes, there is a chance that you may really poop while giving birth, since the cue for pushing often involves pushing as though you’re taking a poop (sorry for all of the poop talk). As someone who has given birth, I can tell you with absolute certainty that you’ll be in labour la-la-land and you will not care one bit — in fact, you likely won’t even know it happened. Your medical practitioner and birth support person will just clean it up and move on as if nothing happened. Birth can be messy!
The benefit of pelvic floor physiotherapy
Pelvic floor physiotherapy is considered by many midwives, doctors, nurses and physiotherapists as a necessary part of every birthing person’s labour and postpartum plan. In fact, I would argue it’s just as important as taking a high-quality childbirth education class, making a reasonable and flexible birth plan, and preparing for labour and delivery in other ways.
The pelvic floor plays an important role during delivery. As your baby descends through the pelvis, his or her head will hit the pelvic floor, rotating in order to get out of your body. A tense or uneven pelvic floor could potentially impact your baby’s position as it is on its way out of your body. Ideally, you want your pelvic floor to be relaxed so it can stretch and thin and so your baby’s head rotates on it evenly and has a smooth exit. This is just one reason why prenatal pelvic floor appointments are so important.
Not only will pelvic floor physiotherapy ensure you’re doing everything you can to have the easiest delivery possible, but it can also help relieve some pregnancy-related pelvic floor symptoms such as incontinence, pain with sex, hip pain, or having to pee more than three times a night. I usually recommend that people come in for their treatment roughly six weeks postpartum, no matter how they birthed their baby (yes, even you c-section mamas need to be checked out), even in the absence of any symptoms. Bladder control issues, chronic lower back or abdominal pain, pain during sex, a sense of “fullness” in your pelvis among others are all signs that you need pelvic floor physio sooner rather than later.
NewmarketToday columnist Dr. Sarah Mickeler is a chiropractor and founder of West End Mamas, which offers pelvic floor physiotherapy, as well as other vital prenatal and postnatal treatments in its Newmarket and Toronto locations. Its mission is to improve pregnancy, birth and postpartum for all Canadians.