5 Labor and Delivery Reality Checks

From birth pain to epidurals, the inside scoop about what's really going to go down on the day you'll be giving birth—direct from our labor nurse.

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Between Hollywood and old wives' tales, there's a lot of misleading information about childbirth out there. But until you've been through it, it's hard to separate fact from fiction. Here's what you need to know about labor as you prepare for the big event.

Related: The Truth About Labor Pain

Fiction: There's no such thing as a great labor.

Fact: Sure, there is. It's true that virtually all women consider labor intense, painful and potentially, umm, gross. But it's also an amazing experience. You're launching a human life into the world. While that comes with no small amount of hard work (and bodily fluids), it's also an Olympic-quality physical event, and one of the most important things your body will ever do.

It's also an incredibly unique experience for you and your partner, unlike anything your relationship has been through before (or, at least not something it'll go through often). It's intimate, affectionate, caring and filled with love. Labor requires a profound level of spirituality, too. You'll dig deep within yourself to find the strength to surrender the child you've been carrying for nine months to the world. When you balance all that against the unpleasant aspects of labor the result is really, well, great.

Fiction: Labor can't be that painful.

Fact: I'd love to say that's not true, but almost all women say, "yep, it's actually that painful." Here's how Childbirth Connection, a core program of the National Partnership for Women & Families, describes labor pain:

Nearly all women experience lower abdominal pain during contractions. Many also experience low back pain...[and] pain throughout the belly; in the hips, buttocks, or thighs; or in some combination of these locations. Pain may radiate from front to back, back to front, or down the thighs. It may be felt in several areas at once or just in one specific place. Words women use to describe their pain include: cramping, sharp, aching, throbbing, pressing, and shooting. Pain intensity varies widely and generally increases as labor progresses.

The real myth is thinking there's nothing you can do about the pain other than get an epidural. In fact, there are plenty of ways to ease the pain or work through it that are less invasive. Heat, movement, stretching, applied pressure and massage, meditation, hypnosis, deep breathing and hot baths are all effective. For some women, it's all they need. Still, other women need narcotic pain medication to knock the edges off the sharpest pain.

Fiction: I can always get an epidural if it becomes too painful.

Fact: You can probably get an epidural, but there are no guarantees. What if you're in pain very early in labor before your doctor or midwife thinks an epidural is appropriate? What if the anesthetist is busy with other patients? What if your labor is moving at lightning speed and there's no time? What if your anesthetist tries to administer your epidural, but it doesn't take? These things happen all the time. That's why it's essential for all women to learn a few natural childbirth techniques in case they can't get an epidural when they want one.

Related: Epidurals: 6 Things You Need to Know

Fiction: My mom had fast labors, so I will too.

Fact: It's true that genetics play a part in women's labors. You and your mother might have similar pelvic structure and uterine muscle strength, which might contribute to you both having fast labors. But...don't count on it.

Remember: You also inherited genes from your father's side of the family. Plus, your baby is a magical combination of both your genes and her father's. All those genetic variables, combined with the position of your baby's head, the conditions and environment you're laboring in, the way you move, rest and work through labor, and other factors all play a part in how quickly or slowly you labor. Prepare for the long haul, but if you get lucky, and it all goes quickly— thank your mother.

Fiction: Once labor is over, you'll forget all the pain.

Fact: Those who've been through labor more than once know this myth is nonsense. We may not physically recall the sensations our body went through during labor, but the experience becomes integrated into our mind, body and spirit in a way that strengthens us for the journey of parenthood. In many ways, the memory of labor reminds us that parenting is a lot of work, sometimes painful, but always worth the effort. In the end, you'll remember the pleasure of motherhood far more vividly than the pain.

Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to jeanne@jeannefaulkner.com.

This Fit Pregnancy blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician. Before initiating any exercise program, diet or treatment provided by Fit Pregnancy, you should seek medical advice from your primary caregiver.