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I hear you, mama.
You’re in the middle of reading as many articles and posts about what to expect during labor and delivery because you don’t want anything to catch you by surprise, am I right?
How do I know that?
Because I did the same thing when I was nearing the birth of my daughter.
Since I spent years dreading the day I would deliver a baby I was determined to figure out exactly what to expect during labor.
So I read and I read and I read some more.
That’s the way to prepare for the biggest thing your body has ever gone through, right?
(Sorry if that scared you but it’s true and a big part of what to expect from labor the first time).
It will change you forever (and not just because there’s a baby at the end) but don’t worry, by the end of this post you’ll be ready to take on labor and delivery like a boss.
So, welcome to another post about what to expect during labor and delivery except this isn’t going to be your standard advice.
What you’re looking for is honesty about what to expect and some labor tips to help you out as a first-time mom.
Not just information about what you should be doing during labor, where you should give birth, and whether or not you should get an epidural.
That’s my goal – to arm you with exactly what to expect during labor and delivery – written by someone who has been there.
This is the honest stuff that I tell my best friend about labor over dinner (she’s working on the whole pregnancy thing and is, of course, curious about labor and delivery as most first time moms are! And, yes, we discuss this kind of thing when we meet for dinner).
Your labor experience will be very different from mine but there are some general things that you can just expect to happen during labor and delivery.
The biggest thing I want you to remember as labor approaches is that you can and will handle birthing a baby in whatever way you see for yourself.
You’ll be just fine mama and, heck, you’ll probably go back for round two in the future.
Yes, that’s my way of letting you know that us women have been doing this for centuries. 🙂
Want to prepare for labor with a registered Labor & Delivery nurse guiding you?
Check out this prenatal course that will help you get ready for labor and delivery.
Looking for a natural birth experience but unsure of how to prepare?
RELATED READ: What to Pack in Your Hospital Bag for Labor
What to Expect During Labor For First Time Moms
Before we get to all the details of what you can expect during labor and delivery, I want to talk about two questions I see first-time moms asking about labor and delivery over and over again.
Here are the two big questions new moms have:
- How long is labor for a first time mom?
- How bad is the pain of giving birth?
I can totally see why we need answers to these questions.
It’s the fear of the unknown at work here and first-time moms need to put their minds at ease as they get ready for labor and delivery.
How Long is Labor for a First Time Mom?
Typically first-time moms labor for an average of 8 hours with two hours of actually pushing the baby out. (source)
So, some women might experience less labor time while others will have a longer delivery.
Since this is your body’s first time experiencing labor it’s hard to tell how it will handle it.
I’ve heard from many of my mom friends that their second labor was much shorter than their first.
I always wondered why that might be and then I realized when you’re a first-time mom, your body has never been through labor and delivery of a baby.
It’s learning how to birth a baby. (Yes, mother nature is AMAZING).
And, that takes time.
Think about it – have any of your friends told you their belly popped out much faster during their second pregnancy than the first?
It happens quickly because the body has been there and done that so it realizes to make room for the growing baby sooner.
Makes sense right?
So, the answer to your question about how long labor will last is that you should be prepared for hours.
There could be complications or it’s just the simple fact your body is learning how to deal with labor.
(Of course, there are always exceptions like my good friend who barely made it to the hospital before her daughter decided to join the world but don’t count on that being your experience).
So, bring a book, crosswords, puzzle or anything else to entertain yourself.
RELATED READ: The Complete Postpartum Recovery Plan
How Bad is the Pain of Giving Birth?
Well, here we are.
The one thing all first-time moms are most curious about.
How much does labor hurt?
It will be the most pain you’ve ever experienced hands down.
Well, unless you’ve had more than 23 bones break in your body at the same time.
(I once heard that analogy and I’m not sure where so if you know the source let me know).
How would I describe labor pain?
Like extremely horrific gas that twists and turns your insides.
That’s as descriptive as I can be without you actually experiencing it for yourself.
Prepare for pain, mama but know you WILL get through it.
RELATED READ: 23 Postpartum Recovery Tips to Heal Faster from Birth
What to Expect When in Labor
YOU CAN GO INTO LABOR EARLY OR LATE
I wanted to make this point quickly because a lot of first-time moms are focused on their due date and there’s nothing wrong with that but very few will actually deliver on that day.
(I think it’s around 5% – so really low).
My point here is that you should figure out what to pack in your hospital bag for labor and have those things ready well before your expected due date.
In my own experience, I went in to labor 8 days early – it’s a good thing I was ready!
LABOR CAN START IN SO MANY DIFFERENT WAYS
When we watch a movie or TV show where a pregnant woman goes into labor it always starts the same way.
She grabs her stomach, tons of water flows out from between her legs and then she’s in excruciating pain almost immediately.
Perhaps there are women who experience labor this way but it’s far from the norm.
There are many ways labor can start.
Your water might break before you’ve even felt a contraction (that’s what happened to me) or you can have mild contractions and not even realize it’s the real deal.
Whatever happens, listen to your body and trust the signals it’s giving you – even when they aren’t the ‘norm’.
THERE ARE 3 STAGES OF LABOR
Because every single woman’s experience is different it’s hard to clearly define what exactly to expect during labor.
So experts have broken down the whole labor and delivery experience into 3 main stages.
STAGE 1 – Onset of labor (when your cervix is thinning and your body starts
STAGE 2 – You are dilated to 10 cms and your baby will be born.
STAGE 3 – Delivery of the placenta.
Within these stages, there are more stages.
YOU MAY HAVE HOURS TO WAIT
I remember thinking that when I went into labor everything would happen quickly.
(And, there are women who report that happening – it’s not “normal” though).
It’s far more common for labor to take hours especially when you’re delivering your first baby.
That’s why you always hear nurses and moms who have been through labor suggesting to stay home as long as possible.
That might feel easier said than done at the time and that’s understandable.
Just know that you’ll likely have hours of waiting time and anticipation so bring some things to do.
(Bring a board game if you can or adult coloring books – not kidding – I would have loved to have these so I could take my mind off things).
YOU MIGHT NOT BE ABLE TO EAT
Mama, make sure you eat because, depending on what hospital you go to, they may not let you eat.
This completely caught me off guard.
I am starting to hear some hospitals will let you eat if you’re considered low risk so that’s good – but make sure you’re prepared to not eat for hours.
(They stop food just in case something goes wrong during labor and delivery and have to do an emergency c-section. One of my mom friends had it happen and said it was pretty scary to have her labor experience turn that way).
YOU MAY WANT TO WALK AROUND
I couldn’t sit still.
Even though my water broke and I was experiencing light contractions, I needed to move around.
I think this was a bit of motherly instinct.
My daughter was taking her time and I wanted to help things along.
So, don’t be surprised if you walk the hallways during labor (something I never envisioned happening).
RELATED READ: The Complete Third Trimester To Do List
YOU’LL STILL HAVE TO PEE DURING LABOR
Yup, the urge to pee will still be there so make sure to empty your bladder often.
And, yes if you’re wondering about peeing while you push it might happen for sure (hence the reason to empty your bladder often BEFORE you get to pushing).
And, by the way, no one will care if you pee – health care professionals or midwives have seen it all – you’re not the first woman to ever give birth. ;))
YOUR WATER WILL BREAK
Or be broken for you if it doesn’t occur naturally.
New moms are always a little worried about their water breaking especially when the baby’s due date is drawing closer.
Take it from a mom who had her water break before contractions started – it’s not like the movies.
There is no gush and then embarrassment on your part.
Having your water break is kinda like peeing – you’re not too sure if your water actually broke or if you are, in fact, peeing a little.
The only thing that tipped me off was that I felt something release inside (it was very light so I didn’t know if I was making things up in my mind).
Back to my point though.
If your contractions start first, you may not even notice your water break – so please, mama, don’t worry about it if you go out in public close to your due date.
And know that your water will break at some point during labor but it won’t be as bad as you might be expecting.
YOUR BABY WILL BE MONITORED
No matter where or what kind of birthing experience you want, your baby’s heartbeat and well being will be monitored.
That gave me such peace of mind – we’re going through a lot during labor and delivery but so are our babies so it’s a nice feeling when they start to monitor how your sweet baby is doing. 🙂
YOUR CONTRACTIONS WILL INCREASE IN SEVERITY
I’m sure you’ve realized this but your contractions will get more intense and frequent the further into labor you are.
Your body is moving things along and you’re getting closer to meeting your sweet newborn baby!
USE PAIN COPING TECHNIQUES
If you want a natural birth experience then you should expect to use coping techniques during labor and delivery.
Labor is painful there’s no way around that.
The pain will intensify and you’ll likely be dealing with it for a long period of time – so make sure you’re ready mama!
I’ve found some amazing natural ways to cope with labor pain so I do plan to write a post very soon (stay tuned!).
It’ll be about natural coping techniques for labor. 🙂
RELATED READ: Effective Breathing Techniques for Labor
YOUR EPIDURAL MAY NOT WORK LIKE YOU THOUGHT
I made it until I was 6cm dilated before asking for an epidural.
I was induced though because my water broke first and my little girl decided she still wasn’t ready to come.
(They move your labor and delivery along with drugs if your natural contractions don’t start as they should after your water breaks first. The baby is vulnerable to bacteria and infection because there is no longer anything protecting them).
I do wonder if I would have been able to handle natural contractions.
(Who knows and it’ll be something I try with my next labor and delivery).
Anyway, back to my point – even though I took the epidural, it didn’t help like I thought it would.
I was pretty tired by that point and was looking for some welcome relief.
Once the epidural kicked in the pain was less but I still felt more than expected.
So if you’re expecting to get an epidural during labor just be aware it might not work the way you think it will and have those coping techniques ready to use.
YOU MIGHT NOT FOLLOW YOUR BIRTH PLAN
That brings me to your birth plan.
It’s popular advice to write a plan that details everything you want to happen during your birthing experience.
It’s sage advice, just remember things might not go according to your plans.
You should expect labor to be a bit unpredictable.
No matter how much advice you read and how many plans you lay out – you cannot guarantee things will go your way – it’s truly up to Mother Nature but don’t worry you can trust her. 🙂
The unpredictability of labor is a big reason I chose to give birth in a hospital.
I wanted to be close to people who could help immediately if something went wrong – not at home with a midwife who would then have to transfer me to a hospital.
**NOTE: This was my decision and it made me feel good and comfortable about birthing my daughter. There is no right or wrong answer here – you need to do what makes you feel comfortable. I’m including this honest account of labor because you’re wondering what to expect during labor and delivery and there’s nothing better than real advice.**
I would still write a birth plan but keep in mind that it’s likely going to be used as a guideline.
REMEMBER YOU DO HAVE CONTROL
That brings me to something I think a lot of first-time moms tend to forget during labor.
You have control over what happens to your baby and body.
Don’t be afraid to speak up if something is making you uncomfortable or you’d like to change something.
You do have a say during labor and delivery!
For example, I could have waited longer to be induced if I wanted.
But I was scared of infecting my daughter and causing major complications so I decided to go ahead with the induction.
RELATED READ: 10 Must-Have Baby Products to Survive the First Year
YOU MAY NOT WANT TO CHANGE BIRTHING POSITIONS
Popular advice suggests you change birthing positions often during labor to help ease the pain.
When you change positions the following few contractions will likely be more painful because your body is adjusting to where the blood is flowing.
It was actually my L&D nurse who told me that would happen and I scoffed at her.
(Because what does SHE know, haha!).
Turns out she was right.
Expect that not everything you’ve read to prepare for labor will actually help you when you’re there.
YES YOU MIGHT POOP (BUT YOU MAY NOT!)
One of the most embarrassing things you can expect when in labor is the chance of pooping.
I have to admit this one had me a bit concerned too.
There is a real chance of pooping, to be honest, but don’t worry you’ll never know if it happens or not.
Because your nurses will get rid of it before you have a chance to notice.
Let this labor fear go, mama.
Whether it happens or not, you’ll never know.
(Plus you’ll be more concerned about other things to care anyway but I guess you’ll only see that once you’re in labor 🙂 )
THERE WILL BE A LOT OF BLOOD
My hubby tells me he isn’t quite sure how I actually survived labor and delivery.
There is more blood than you’re probably expecting so get ready in case you catch sight of it.
But don’t worry…
YOU WON’T HAVE TO LOOK
If you don’t want to.
I’m not sure about you but I’m pretty squeamish.
The thought of actually seeing everything happening to my body freaks me right out.
During labor, you’re given the option of seeing your baby be born with the help of a mirror but don’t worry if you don’t want to – you won’t have to look.
In fact, if you don’t want to see the placenta, you can request they remove it quickly before you lay eyes on it.
(Although you’ll probably be distracted anyway by that beautiful baby in your arms 🙂 )
That’s what I mean about having control – because you do.
If you’d like to see everything then you can just make sure you tell your nurses.
RELATED READ: 11 Methods for Natural Pain Relief During Labor
THERE WILL BE A LOT OF PEOPLE AROUND
The night I gave birth to my daughter there were a few student doctors on the floor.
My nurses asked me if I was okay having them in the room when I actually delivered our baby.
Mama, when you are actively pushing your baby out you’re not going to care who’s around, trust me.
You could be on the side of a busy intersection and all you’re going to care about is delivering your baby safely (and quickly!).
Depending on where you are, you can expect to have several people around you while you’re in labor.
And that means…
PEOPLE WILL SEE YOU NAKED
Yes, those people will see you naked.
No question they see what you have down there but they’re focused on delivering the baby so don’t worry too much about it.
I admit this made me a little nervous when I first went into labor but I quickly got over it and so will you.
(Just remember that health care professionals see laboring women naked all the time. It probably gets old but it’s what they do so no, don’t worry, they aren’t judging your appearance).
That brings me to another concern of first-time moms…
NOBODY CARES IF YOU SHAVE
Well, except for you probably.
I see many first-time moms question other moms on how they shaved before delivery and I have to wonder if you’ll actually care when you go into labor.
Not one person who is assisting your labor cares if you’re shaved or not.
Your pubic hair could be long enough to braid and all the nurses and doctors are concerned about is helping you bring your baby safely into this world.
There’s a lot going on that’s far more distracting than the current status of your pubic hair.
So, don’t worry if you aren’t perfectly shaved when you go into labor because you seriously won’t be thinking about it anyway.
YOU MIGHT FEEL COLD AND SICK
You might feel cold during labor and delivery so don’t hesitate to ask the nurses for a warm blanket.
I seriously thought I would sweat so I was surprised when I felt so cold.
I also felt nausea but, thankfully, didn’t actually throw up.
It’s quite common during labor though so don’t be surprised if it happens.
YOU’LL BE EXHAUSTED
You might expect to be tired after you’re done with labor but you’ll probably be exhausted during labor.
Your body is going through a lot so this is perfectly normal.
Just take breaks when you can and remember you won’t be in labor forever.
There will be time to rest (even though it doesn’t feel like it).
THE URGE TO PUSH WILL BE A RELIEF
I had a lot of mom friends tell me that when you start pushing it almost feels good.
Your body is finally ready to push out the baby and it’s giving you the urge to do so.
The transition phase is over (which is the most painful part of labor) and it’s time to meet your baby! 🙂
With that said, make sure you don’t…
DON’T PUSH WITH ALL YOUR MIGHT
A big mistake I made during labor and delivery was pushing my baby out with everything I had.
When they said push, this mama took it seriously.
And, you’d think I regret doing that because I tore badly but I didn’t.
Pushing hard made the following two days after labor worse than they would have been had I just pushed like I was pooping.
My whole body was sore.
Not just my lady parts – MY WHOLE BODY.
I had trouble moving around and it was the last thing I needed as I adjusted to life with my sweet baby girl and began my own postpartum recovery.
Try relaxing a bit while you push 🙂
YOU MAY TEAR AND NEED STITCHES
There is a lot of advice out there suggesting ways to prevent tearing during labor.
I would absolutely try some of these methods (because why not?) just don’t be disappointed when you do tear and need stitches.
The size of your baby and positioning of their limbs play a huge role here and it won’t matter if you performed a perineal massage for six months leading up to delivery.
About 95% of first time moms tear during labor and delivery – the variable is how bad the tear is. (source)
Don’t worry mama you’ll heal.
That’s why it’s important to start reading some postpartum recovery tips before you go into labor so that you’re ready. 🙂
YOU’LL MEET YOUR SWEET NEWBORN BABY
Meeting your sweet baby for the first time is breathtaking.
You just gave life to that little human.
You’re probably pretty in love with your baby right now even though you haven’t met them quite yet.
Get ready to feel a love that you’ve never felt – it’s truly amazing.
YOU’LL HAVE YOUR FIRST SKIN TO SKIN EXPERIENCE
As soon as your baby is born, they’ll place him or her on you for your first skin to skin time.
Mama – it is AH-mazing!
You’ll be filled with wonderment and joy.
Welcome to mamahood!
THE NURSES WILL GET YOUR BABY TO LATCH
I didn’t realize but the nurses will try to get your baby to latch soon after birth.
In my case, they got baby girl cleaned up and then placed her back on to me for latching.
You might be exhausted but it was one of the coolest things about labor and delivery.
Your breastfeeding journey starts right then! 🙂
YOUR FIRST BATHROOM BREAK AFTER BIRTH WILL BE A SHOCK
I have to throw this last point into what to expect during labor even though by the time you get to your first bathroom break labor will be over.
Mama, you will be weak, sore and wondering why on Earth is someone bugging you to go to the bathroom.
And, going to the bathroom is HARD.
There really is no way to sugar coat it, so please just be ready!
There you go, mama!
I hope I’ve answered some of your questions about what to expect during labor and delivery.
The important thing to remember is that you have the power to control what happens during your birth experience.
You can learn what to expect during labor but you will probably fear it until you’ve been through it and that’s okay.
All moms have been right where you are and there’s something so comforting about that.
Remember you WILL make it through labor and deliver the most precious gift for your family.
Now, that’s pretty amazing!
Tell me – what is your biggest labor fear as a first-time mom?
Comment and share below! 🙂
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