Reality check

Are you afraid you won’t make it to hospital on time? Worried you can’t handle the pain? What about (the horror!) pooing on the delivery table? Here are some common labour fears and how to handle them.

Many pregnant mums, particularly first-time mums, say they are afraid of labour and birth. It’s the unknown entities which scare us the most, and labour and birth are unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. Here are some common labour and birth fears that pregnant women have – and the reality behind them.


Fear: “I won’t make it to hospital on time and I’ll have the baby in the car on the side of the motorway!”

Reality: We’ve all seen those news reports about the mum who gave birth in the carpark of the hospital, or in her bathtub, and feared we would be next. But the good news is, those cases are rare and unusual, and the vast majority do make it to hospital on time. On average, labour lasts eight hours – of course, some babies take more time, and some take less time to come. First labours are usually longer than that. And your baby will give you plenty of warning signs that labour is happening, such as your mucous plug coming out, contractions, and your waters breaking. Timing your contractions can help you understand how your labour is progressing and will give you an idea of how long it will be before your baby arrives – usually, once they are down to five-minute intervals, that’s a sign that you’re on your way. Talk to your midwife about what to do to ease these fears, and do things to help prepare, such as driving a couple of “test runs” to hospital so you can time the trip.


Fear: “I’m terrified I’ll end up needing a Caesarean.”

Reality: For a number of women who give birth, a Caesarean section is the safest way to ensure that both mum and baby are healthy and well. While it can be a scary prospect, it is always a possibility, and one that you should learn about and understand. While the recovery from a C-section isn’t a walk in the park, it’s not the worst thing if you do end up needing one – in fact, many mums who have a C-section say afterward that they were glad they had one. Talk to your midwife about the criteria for when you might need to have a C-section, how that decision would be made, and what would happen if you did need one – what pain relief would be administered, who may be in the room with you, when you would be with your baby, where you would recover, etc.


Fear: “I’m worried I’ll poo on the delivery table.”

Reality: This is perhaps the most common fear of all for pregnant women, and no matter how many times midwives reassure them that it’s normal, mums-to-be still think that if they poo during labour, they will be so embarrassed they won’t ever be able to look anyone in the eye again. But consider this: During labour, you will be so focused and “in the zone” that when the time comes when you might pass faecal matter, the chances are high that you won’t even notice. There will be all kinds of stuff coming out “down there”, including a baby, and your LMC’s focus will be on ensuring that it’s all clear – so any poo will be wiped away immediately and likely without you even knowing it happened. (It’s nothing like when you do a poo on the loo. There are so many sensations happening that you probably won’t be able to even feel it happening.)


Fear: “What if I’m one of those women who is in labour for days and days?”

Reality: While many women are worried about their labour lasting for a long time, the average time first-time mums are in active labour is eight hours, and first-time labours rarely go on for more than about 16 to 18 hours, total. That’s less than a day, and you won’t be spending the entire time in agonising pain – if your labour is dragging on and you are tired and miserable, your midwife will have suggestions for ways to help. Stories of women being in labour for days on end belong in the archives, as it simply isn’t the way things happen any more.


Fear: “I don’t know if I can handle the pain – hook up my epidural at the first contraction!”

Reality: Oh, the pain. The painful pain. Some new mums, following the birth of their baby, think to themselves, “Why didn’t anyone tell me about the pain?” Well, the answer is, because you wouldn’t believe us when we say that childbirth is painful but you can and will survive it, and you will feel like a million bucks afterward. Remember that your body knows how to give birth, and once you’re in labour, your body will take over – you’ll be at nature’s mercy, and the best course of action is to embrace what’s going on and work with the pain as much as possible. There are some great pain management techniques you can try, such as meditation, hypnosis, massage, aromatherapy, gas and air, labouring in a birthing pool, standing under a hot shower – talk to your LMC about what pain relief options she can recommend, and read up ahead of time. Talk to other new mums about what pain relief methods they found helpful, and how they found the pain and got over it. And if you feel like you just can’t get beyond your terror, it may help to talk to a counsellor.


Fear: “What if I tear from front to back and have to have a thousand stitches? Or, worse, what if I have to have  an episiotomy?”

Reality: If you deliver vaginally, it is possible that you will tear, and sometimes tears are reasonably serious. However, this is a normal part of childbirth – and your midwife will do everything she can to help reduce the likelihood of this happening. (This is why it’s so important to listen to your midwife if she’s telling you to push or to stop pushing!) First-degree or superficial tears are minor and only need a few stitches, and second-degree tears go a little deeper, reaching the muscle beneath the skin and requiring a bit more stitching. Third- and fourth-degree tears, which are the most severe, occur in only about 4% of all births. As for episiotomies, these are relatively uncommon these days – talk to your LMC about if and when they do episiotomies, and if you really don’t want one, be upfront about this. There are things you can to help reduce your likelihood of tearing, such as practising your pelvic floor exercises to strengthen the muscles down there and help give you more control over your pushing, and doing perineal massage to help your perineum become more supple.


Fear: “I am terrified that something is going to go wrong with me or the baby.”

Reality: Unforeseen delivery complications are a very real fear, and one that should be taken seriously by everyone – your midwife or LMC, you, and your birth partner. While childbirth is natural, there are a number of variables that come into play during labour, and there is always a chance that something could go awry. For example, your baby could turn himself into the breech position, or your contractions could slow down or stop, and you may need a C-section. Toward the end of pregnancy, your midwife will rely on many tests and will examine you multiple times to determine your baby’s position and both of your health and fitness for delivery. Most complications can be picked up on when you’re still pregnant, and measures can be put into place. Also, when you are in labour, your midwife will have monitors and other ways to keep an eye on both of you – and call in any medical professionals immediately if something seems off. Childbirth is far, far safer today than it was in the past, and it is in everyone’s best interests to keep you and your baby safe during delivery, so your midwife and other health professionals at your hospital or birthing centre will do their best to ensure everything goes just the way it should.


Fear: “I have an absolute horror of needles and the thought of the epidural scares me!”

Reality: Number one rule of getting an epidural: Don’t look at the needle. If you start thinking about a cartoon-sized needle poking you, of course you’re going to freak out. (Tip: The needle isn’t that big. Trust us.) Anaesthetists are VERY skilled at administering epidurals, and many new mums report that the hardest thing about getting an epidural was trying to keep still during contractions so it could be administered. If you are needle-phobic, talk to your LMC ahead of time and make sure you do what you need to do in order to have the epidural if you need it – whether that means sitting in a supported position in case you feel faint at the idea of the needle, or having some juice nearby in case your blood sugar drops and you need a quick pick-me-up, or making sure people are talking to you while it’s being administered so you are distracted. Be very clear about what you need.

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BUMP & baby is New Zealand’s only magazine for pregnancy and early babyhood. Our team of mums and mums-to-be understand what it’s like to be pregnant in this connected age, and that’s why BUMP & Baby online is geared toward what pregnant women and new mums really want to know.

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