If you’re here on my blog you probably already know this, but I’ve been a labor and delivery nurse for about six years now. I absolutely adore what I do, and I can very confidently say that it is the best job in the world. (Aside from being a mama of course!)
I like to jokingly say I’m a “professional birthday party host” and that I throw everyone’s favorite parties. But in all seriousness, I truly see it as a privilege to be there for moms and dads as they welcome their new little ones into this world.
Whether it is their first, second, or eighth (remember I live in Utah) birth can be a very personal and overwhelming experience. Even parents who have done this before have a lot of anxiety surrounding the 12+ hours they often spend on my unit.
While these anxieties and fears are more common in first-time parents, no one is immune. This got me thinking about all the similar questions and misconceptions I’ve heard from patients over the years and really, they all fall into the same few topics. I thought I’d compile those all into the top 10 pieces of advice I have for parents heading to labor and delivery soon.
I hope these tips will help ease some worries and help you enjoy the day a little more. Because I promise, it’s going to be a great one!
1. I don't care if you shave down there
Please do not go out of your way to groom anything before your delivery for our sake. I feel confident in speaking for most labor and delivery nurses out there in say that we really don’t care. Whether you are shaved, waxed, trimmed, or haven’t touched anything down there in months it does not make a difference to us.
I have seen my fair share of pubic hair in my time, and I barely bat an eye anymore. Often when we are preparing a patient for c-section I can’t even remember if they need to be shaved before the procedure or not.
Do whatever makes you feel the most comfortable for your labor. If you decide to shave or trim, ask a partner to help you! I know you haven’t been able to see around that belly for months. And the last thing I want is for you to have any cuts or razor burns that are itchy and uncomfortable during your recovery.
And please whatever you do, DO NOT get waxed for the first time 9-months pregnant! There are lots of nerves down there that only get more sensitive as pregnancy progresses and waxing will not feel good at all!
2. You might poop and it's ok if you do!
If I were to make a list of patient’s most frequently asked questions, “am I going to poop?” is probably in the top 10 at least. And the answer is probably yes! From experience I’d say easily 50% of women have a bowel movement at some point during labor. It’s really not that big of a deal!
I always tell my patient that I’m discreet and their significant others will rat them out, not me. But seriously you’d be surprised how many husbands do! (Note to husbands if you are reading this, DO NOT TELL HER. Please and thank you!)
Most of the time when a woman starts to poop while pushing, I will just wipe it away with a clean wipe or towel. No big deal! I layer several chux pads and towels underneath the mom before we start for this very purpose.
Pooping while you push is actually a great indicator that you are pushing well. It’s the same muscles to push as if you were having a bowel movement so it’s just natural for it to happen that way. Plus, as your baby’s head moves down your vaginal it compresses the rectum and moves anything in its way. So please do not worry about it much at all. It’s just a natural part of getting your baby here safely.
3. It's hard to prevent vaginal tearing
Many women are afraid of a vaginal birth because of tearing and that is totally understandable. I wish I could give you all the advice in the world to prevent it from happening to you, but unfortunately for many women it is just part of the process. You are pushing a large baby through a space that hasn’t fit anything that size before through it after all.
There are lots of ideas out there about how to prevent tearing during delivery, but the only I personally have seen to show some merit is perineal massage. This involves applying pressure downward to your vaginal area in the weeks prior to your labor and delivery. If you can, try stretching this area for a few minutes each day during your third trimester.
It will hopefully help the perineal tissue become more elastic and willing to stretch leading up to the delivery. And thus, resulting in hopefully little to no tearing.
The best advice I can give about tearing is to listen to your nurse and your doctor during the pushing process. Especially if you have an epidural, it can be very difficult to feel how your body is moving during the pushing process. Listen to their advice and their coaching. Especially at the end when baby is crowning, your doctor may have you stop pushing to allow your tissues to stretch naturally. There may be a lot of uncomfortable pressure but listen to those around you as best you can. I promise we are just trying to help you!
In many cases, the woman may still tear to no fault of her own. And that’s ok! Tearing is not the end of the world, and your doctor will stitch you up right after delivery with dissolvable stitches. You should be good as new by your six-week appointment!
4. I do not want you to have a c-section either, unless that is your birth plan
I hope this is not shocking, but I really don’t want you to have a c-section either! Trust me, I don’t. If I can avoid a c-section for one of my patients, I am going to do everything in my power to make sure we all don’t end up in the OR together.
Unfortunately, c-sections are unavoidable in some situations. These reasons may include fetal malpresentation (breech, transverse, etc.) your placenta is over the cervix, or your baby is in severe distress and a c-section is needed for their safety. In situations where it can be avoided, however, I will do anything I can control in my role as your nurse to prevent a c-section.
I have also had situations in the past where patients have requested a c-section with no medical indications. They simply prefer that option. This could be for a variety of reasons such as anxiety around labor and delivery, past trauma, or even mother’s intuition that a c-section is the best option. (And in my many years in healthcare I have learned firsthand how powerful a mother’s intuition can be!) If a c-section is the route you choose, regardless of the reason know that I will be your biggest advocate and supporter the entire time!
5. Education is great, but please use Dr. Google sparingly
The internet is a very powerful tool that allows us to have so much knowledge at the click of a button. While this is an incredible thing, it can also be dangerous and lead to lots of misinformation. Just because someone wrote something online, does not make it true! Dr. Google is not always correct.
I’ve had many patients come into triage believing they have XYZ diagnosis, or they are in danger of this or that because of looking up a single symptom. While it is important to recognize issues before they become too serious, you will consume yourself with anxiety if you worry about every tiny detail. If you are concerned about anything that is happening to your body, please call your doctor! They can help you weed out all the misinformation and tailor care to your specific needs.
I am a big advocate, however, about educating yourself on pregnancy, labor, and postpartum. The more you know, the less scary all of it is! I would highly recommend taking a prenatal class if it is offered locally or find one online from a reputable source. Check with your OBGYN and see if they offer a course or can recommend one to you.
Learning about everything that is going to happen to you and your baby throughout the pregnancy and birth process can help alleviate a lot of anxiety and fear. And don’t forget your partner in all of this! Take a class together so you both are on the same page when it comes to the big day!
6. There is no such thing as a stupid question
Never feel afraid to ask questions. And ask lots! Even if you have done all the preparation in the world, I do not expect you to know everything, nor do I want you to! Birth is a unique experience and can be overwhelming to many parents. If there is anything that you are confused about, or unsure of what is happening please stop us and ask. Hopefully everything is explained in detail ahead of time, but don’t hesitate to stop your nurse for clarification or for any rephrasing.
A coworker once described our role as a labor and delivery nurse kind of like a “birth tour guide”. I am here with lots of experience about all the ins and outs of all things related to labor ready to share that with excited new parents. As someone experiencing it for the first time, I want you to ask all the questions and learn whatever it is you would like to learn. And even if it isn’t your first time, things may have been forgotten or are different this time around.
Never think you are a burden or a bother to your nurse by stopping us to a question. Even if it is mid-sentence! I am here to help you in any way possible so please let me. That call light is there for a reason, so make sure to use it!
7. Labor is going to be uncomfortable
Labor hurts. That is just the reality of it. Even if you choose various pain relief methods such as an epidural, I cannot guarantee your experience will be pain free. There will likely be lots of pressure and discomfort when you are pushing your baby out. And if your baby comes faster than anticipated, it can be difficult to get your pain under control fast enough.
There is a reason many people say giving birth is the worst pain you can experience. And while it is painful, it is doable. Unfortunately, a pain free labor is a common misconception a lot of women have when arriving at labor and delivery. I wish I could make that happen; trust me, I do. If you prepare ahead of time, however, I know your labor can be a positive experience.
Before arriving at the hospital, educate yourself on different pain control options. These could include pain medications (epidural or IV), hypnosis, breathing techniques, water therapy, and so much more. Even if you are not planning on an unmedicated birth, it is so important to plan before the big day for what you would like to use for pain relief. This could be as simple as creating a playlist of songs you love to enjoy during the day. Anything that helps make you comfortable and relaxed will help your mind cope with the experience.
And have an open conversation with your nurse about your expectations for your labor. Whether this is your preparations to labor unmedicated and your chose relief methods, or that you want an epidural as soon as the doctor is available. Whatever your plan is, make sure your nurse knows about it so she can help you through the process. And ask her about any other ideas she may have for you! We have helped lots of women through both medicated and unmedicated deliveries other the years and have learned a few tricks along the way!
Please don’t let this scare you! It is not my goal at all, but I want you to go into your delivery with realistic expectations and a plan in place! Birth is as natural as it gets, and while it’s no cakewalk, it’s totally doable. You’ve got this, mama!
8. I am there to be your supporter, advocate, and most of all, friend
When I call my patients my friends, I truly mean it. Even though we are together for a short time, I want you to know that I will have your back just like I would my longtime friends. I am there to be a shoulder to cry on, someone to laugh with, or the bad guy whenever you need it! (Need some privacy from unwanted guest? Girl I’ve got excuses for days to get them out of your room!)
If you come to me with a birth plan, please know I am going to do everything in my power to make it happen. I want you to have a positive experience. At the end of the day, the safety of you and your baby are the most important things to me. And with that I want you to have the most positive birth experience possible within my control.
Your provider may have several patients in labor throughout the day or they may be running back and forth to the clinic. Chances are you may see them once during your labor and then only at the delivery. Your nurse will be in and out with you all day long. And in most cases, you are their only patient so feel comforted knowing you have our undivided attention. Do not hesitate to push that call light whenever. I’ve got you girl!
9. Even if you choose to get an epidural, your body is running a marathon
They don’t call it labor for nothing! Even if you are comfy and resting with an epidural, your body is putting in a ton of work to get your baby here. In active labor you are likely contracting every 2-4 minutes with very intense contractions. Your body is working hard and needs the energy to fuel itself for the many grueling hours of labor.
If you are planning an induction, make sure you eat before you head to the hospital. And if you are just getting started in labor, try to munch on whatever you can until your nurse tells you its time to stop. Your body needs all calories it can get to make it through the intense hours of labor.
During labor, make sure you are keeping yourself hydrated (through an IV or orally) and getting calories into your body. Most facilities will let you consume clear liquids during active labor due to risk of a c-section (this is just based off the hospitals I have worked/delivered at. Please check your facilities for their individual policies) which means you can calories through Jello, juice, broth, and other means. It may not seem like much, but it will make a huge difference in your body’s ability to labor effectively.
It is common to get nauseated during labor and it may not seem the most appetizing to eat Jello all day, but it really does make a difference. Do the best you can! I want you to have all the energy you can to not only labor but enjoy all those snuggles during skin to skin right after delivery.
10. Emergencies happen, but it's going to be ok
Finally, even if you prepare for everything perfectly and take all the classes, emergencies still can happen. You can be the healthiest patient on the unit and something can change in the blink of an eye. There are usually warnings ahead of time that an emergency may happen, but that isn’t always the case.
I’ve had perfectly smooth labors with babies that need resuscitation and a trip to the NICU. I’ve had women spike fevers only a fever only hours into their labor or hemorrhage after delivery with no obvious cause. I’ve seen absolutely beautiful fetal heart tracings change in a matter of seconds and within minutes we are running back for an emergency c-section. At the end of the day labor is unpredictable.
I am not trying to scare you by telling you this, but more to prepare you in case something does happen. Labor and delivery units are the epitome of teamwork and if there is an issue, know that a lot of people will be running into your room very quickly to help.
Things may happen fast, and while I try to explain things as best as I can, sometimes we move faster than our mouths can explain. Just know from the time you walk on to our unit; every nurse always has your safety and the safety of your baby as our top priority. If we can’t explain everything in the moment, when it calms down, I promise we will talk through everything that happened.
And that wraps up the top 10 tips I would give to new parents preparing for birth soon. I hope this was some comfort to you. While labor and delivery can be overwhelming, it is an amazing experience that I hope you will have fond memories of for years to come.
If there are any other questions that I can answer for you, please do not hesitate to reach out to me and I will do my best to get back to you soon!
Best of luck mama!