Preparation for Parenthood: 22 Key Lessons I Learned About Giving Birth

By Nina Roman

After I had my first baby, I was shocked how much I didn’t know about childbirth despite having spent most of my pregnancy reading and surfing the internet.

After my second baby I was still learning. Although I knew what to expect and what pain relief I wanted, it was a completely different labor with no pain relief and giving birth on my side.

So, with the experience of 5 births behind me here is my comprehensive list of things I wish I had known before giving birth.

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1. Labor is Not Like Period Pains

Labor is not like period pains I repeat it is NOT like having a bad period. Labor is intense and nothing can help the pain subside.

My period pains are always in my stomach and low down. However, labor for me is all in my back and bum like a powerful rushing sensation.

Labor for me was 100 times more painful than period pain, but imagine a pill that erases it all from your memory the second the baby is born. It was worth every little twinge.

2. Your Appetite After Pregnancy is Nothing Like Before You Got Pregnant

I can remember having literally no appetite after giving birth. It is important that you do eat especially when you are breastfeeding.

The first couple of days you are running on adrenaline but you will crash especially if you have had no sleep.

It took me 2-3 weeks to get my appetite back to normal after giving birth. Having meals already prepared really helped as it was quick and easy and I didn’t have to think about cooking.

3. You Don’t Actually Breathe Through the Pushing Stage

I found that birthing classes focused on ‘how will I know I’m in labor?’ and more of the first stage of labor and pain relief. What I wish they had discussed more of were things like

  • when to push
  • how to push
  • different positions in labor
  • how to breathe 

With my first baby I had no idea what I was doing and ended up with an episiotomy. I wish I had known what bearing down actually meant. The nurses were encouraging me to ‘push’ but I didn’t know how to.   

What I found was when it was time to push the contractions changed, they became more about a feeling of pooping then pain.

The contractions became less intense and longer in duration lasting about a minute I would take a deep breath and put my chin to my chest and push with the feeling.

I took a break between contractions having Entonox or water. I did this until I could feel the baby crowning then I would always listen to my midwife.

When she said stop pushing and pant, I did and I think this is why I managed to have 9lb babies without any stitches.

I really wished that this amazing online course was available with my first child. You can read about this childbirth class here.


4. You Use Your Pooping Muscles to Birth the Baby

One thing that seems to worry most first-time moms is the feeling that you may poop during labor.

The reason you feel you need to poop in labor is that the muscles you engage to poop are the same muscles that help birth your baby.

The added pressure on your rectum when the baby moves through the birth canal is what can cause you to poop.

When you are bearing down and birthing your baby the last thing you are worried about is pooping during labor.

5. No One Told Me That I Would Be Giving Birth Twice

After the baby is born you will give birth again to the placenta.  The placenta is the organ that gave your baby nutrients and water during pregnancy. 

Normally you will give birth to it within a few minutes of giving birth.

You may also be given an oxytocin injection in your thigh to help your womb contract down so that all the blood vessels in the womb seal off once the placenta comes away.

This is referred to by the midwives as ‘the active management of the third stage of labor’

The contractions can still be painful and the placenta usually slides out. I asked for gas and air during this stage as my contractions were still going very strong with baby no 5.

The midwife will check that the placenta has been delivered complete and you are not left with any retained placenta.

6. You Will Not Leave the Hospital in Your Pre-pregnancy Jeans

If you do then a massive congratulations, but for most of us we will have given birth but look 5 months pregnant.

Your stomach will look like a prune and will wobble like jello, for the unfortunate ones who needed any type of saline you will look bloated and swollen.

Instead of jeans, your new go-to will be black yoga pants that you will live in.

7. Anything Can Happen- Plan but Don’t Over Plan

Its highly unlikely that your birth will go exactly as planned and have been through it five times I can assure you that every single birth was different.

There will be choices that will need to be made on the spot that maybe you didn’t think would be possible.

The only baby I wrote a birth plan for was my first which didn’t go to plan at all.

For my subsequent babies, I chose to go armed with all the knowledge I could find for each intervention and made a decision on the day.

8. Nobody Mentioned a Catheter

If you end up having an epidural on the day then you will be fitted with a catheter.

Epidurals block the nerves in the lower half of the body and are given with about a liter of water which will make you want to pass urine hence why you will need the catheter.

Don’t worry you won’t feel a thing as you have already been numbed, once you are fully dilated and ready to push it will be removed.


9. Pitocin and the Pain Associated With It

Oxytocin is the natural hormone that is flooded in a woman’s body to help uterine contractions during labor.

Pitocin is the synthetic version of oxytocin delivered intravenously to help women go into labor when they are overdue, contractions stall or if labor is not progressing and baby needs to be delivered fast.

I was given a Pitocin induction with my third child, I was encouraged to have an epidural which I refused at the time.

Oh my gosh the contractions started literally 30 seconds after the drip went in that I was screaming for it to be removed, it was like nothing I had experienced and I really wish I had taken the epidural.

I was fully dilated in an hour and baby born an hour later due to her being back to back meant it was a lot more painful than a normally positioned baby.

If you are offered an induction of this type using Pitocin then please consider having an epidural.

10. How Drowsy Pethidine Would Make Me

Pethidine is a morphine-like opioid which has been manufactured. Pethidine is used in labor to relieve pain and help you feel relaxed.

Pethidine is usually injected into your thigh because some women feel sick sometimes there will also be an anti-emetic in the dose which will control the sickness.

It has been said that 1 woman in 3 finds opioid drugs such as pethidine unpleasant as It can make you feel really spaced out.

Pethidine can make you feel drowsy and slow your breathing. Pethidine can cross the placenta and make the baby drowsy affecting breastfeeding.

I must have been one of the laboring women that pethidine didn’t suit at all, I felt drowsy and completely out of control I could barely understand anything the midwives were asking or saying and my husband was advocating for me.

I was so drowsy that I couldn’t even push at the final stages and the whole experience is just a blur. My baby also suffered from the effects and struggled to wake up in the first few days making breastfeeding incredibly difficult.

I wish someone had told me the side effects of this drug before I had agreed to it, thankfully I have never needed to have it again in any of my other labors.

11. I Wish I Had Been More Assertive With What I Wanted

I was adamant that I didn’t want internal examinations, I found them excruciating in the early stages I do however let the nurse check when I feel that I’m ready because by then I can’t feel a thing!

I also asked for two students to be sent away who had just come in to watch the baby being born. They didn’t introduce themselves or ask if they could watch and assumed it would be OK which it wasn’t.

I didn’t feel comfortable that they only came in for that part saying that my fifth baby was delivered by a student who was with me for the whole labor.

12. You Will Grunt

Nobody mentioned that breathing and screaming turns in to hardcore caveman grunting at the final stages of labor.

The first stages of labor are all about breathing through it and towards the end when there is pressure from the baby low on the perineum.

Grunting for me means that we are nearly there and the baby will be born very soon. 

13. You Can Decline Medical Interventions

During labor, women tend to feel under immense pressure to accept medical interventions they do not want by doctors and midwives.

Just remember that if there is anything you are uncomfortable with you can decline any medical interventions that you don’t want.

For me, as mentioned above it was NOT having pethidine. I would make sure however that my birthing partner was aware of anything I was against having.

14. You Will Feel Like Weeing With Every Contraction

Yes, it’s the pressure of the baby’s head on your bladder. I spend most of the early labor in the loo wanting the toilet but nothing actually coming out.

Apparently, you may feel the need to urinate more if the baby is pressing on your bladder. It is important that your pelvic floor exercises as they will help you control your bladder after the baby is born.

15. Your Hair Will Fall Out

You have enjoyed having luscious locks for the best part of 9 months and then after you have your baby it all starts to fall out sometimes in clumps, blocking your plughole and making you worry that it may never come back.

A common side effect of giving birth is losing one’s hair. Postpartum hair loss is normal and temporary and your hair should return to normal within 12 months.

I have suffered from this for each one of my pregnancies and it normally occurs at around 6 months postpartum I looked positively bald from the front.

When I visited my doctor, she explained that during pregnancy the estrogen hormone helps prolong hair growth making it look thick, shiny and gorgeous. The downside is that when you give birth estrogen levels drop and the hair falls out in clumps.

The good news is that it will grow back and you can encourage this by good dietary habits and hair care.

16. The After Pains After My Fifth Were So Bad I Needed Entonox

Cramping after childbirth is normal as the uterus contracts and returns to its size before pregnancy.

After pains are caused by involuntary contractions. Breastfeeding and the more baby’s you have had will intensify these after pains.

After I had my fifth baby my after pains were worse than labor and I asked the midwife for Entonox just to get me through as I couldn’t even hold the baby it was excruciating.

With my previous births using breathing techniques helped tremendously but with baby no five I needed something a bit stronger!

17. You Will Be Terrified of Your First Bowel Movement

After childbirth, your poor bottom has been through an ordeal and many moms have a fear of pooping for the first time and this fear can actually lead to constipation.

Keep hydrated by drinking lots of water, you need to not only replace all the fluid lost during labor but also need it to soften your stool.

Try and eat lots of whole grains, green veg, and fresh fruit. Even a fiber supplement could help here.

18. All Dignity Goes Out of the Window

When I was shopping for my first delivery, I was buying things that would cover me and I was thinking about keeping my dignity during labor.

However, the second I entered the last stages of labor I couldn’t care less if they had walked every visitor through my ward!

But if you are feeling embarrassed or wouldn’t want male nurses or students then please say so, it’s your labor and your decision about who you want in the room.

19. Breastfeeding Can Hurt

As natural as it is it doesn’t mean it will be easy or won’t hurt.  Usually when there is pain then something isn’t quite right. 

The most common reason why breastfeeding can hurt is the baby is not latched on properly or the position of the baby.

Other reasons can include but are not limited to, cracked nipples, mastitis or tongue tie. If the pain continues to speak to a lactation consultant who will be able to help you better latch on your baby during nursing.

I really wished that I knew about this wonderful online breastfeeding course that I did indeed taking during my third pregnancy.

From my experience, it’s a great idea to prepare for breastfeeding by taking, simple and affordable breastfeeding class.

I like the Milkology Course as it is run by a certified lactation educator, is video-based, and comes with a troubleshooting guide – now that’s important.

20. I Wish I Had Known That Suffering From Sciatica and S.p.d. I Could Give Birth on My Side

Sciatica is caused by the compression of the sciatic nerve; this nerve runs down from the lower back to each leg.

Sciatic pain is more common in the second and third trimesters when the baby is bigger and putting more pressure on the nerve.

Symphysis pubis dysfunction (S.P.D) is a problem with the pelvis during pregnancy swelling and pain can make the symphysis joint less stable causing S.P.D.

My first baby was born with a ventuse this meant my legs were stretched out on stirrups so not great for someone with sciatica so for my second I insisted to try a different position.

I was offered a water birth but I didn’t want that so I opted to give birth on my side which was the best thing for the pain in my leg.

The Midwife only stretched my leg as much as it needed to for the baby to be delivered safely.

21. Your Waters Don’t Necessarily Have to Break as a Large Gush They Can Trickle for Days

Not all waters break in a huge gush as Hollywood movies would like us to believe. Sometimes it can trickle for days and other times your waters may have to be broken at the hospital.  

If your waters break as a slow trickle it could mean the sachas, a small opening where the amniotic fluid is leaking. Movement by mom, baby or with a contraction can cause you to leak more.

With my third  baby, I didn’t even realize that I was leaking amniotic fluid I just thought it was pee due to having bladder issues.

It was only when I was getting through eight pairs of panties in one day that my sister forced me to go in and get checked out and guess what….I had no fluid left and had to be induced.

22. You May Break or Chip a Tooth

You may have heard the old wives’ tale of ‘losing a tooth for every child’ and although there is no scientific backing of this concept there is an element of truth to it.

During pregnancy, the body goes through huge changes. The main ways pregnancy effects the oral health of mum is Acid erosion to the teeth from morning sickness or acid reflux.

Increasing the intake of sugar during pregnancy increases the risk of tooth decay. Gum disease in pregnancy is caused by an increase in hormone levels which exacerbates the body’s natural inflammatory response to plaque.

For me, I have broken a tooth after every pregnancy and it may well be due to severe morning sickness, for me it seems the old wife’s tale rings true.