3 Labor Myths

Getting real about what to expect.


We’ve seen a lot of headlines lately about labor myths and labor pain and they’ve inspired me to create my own mini-myth list based on a few ideas that keep bubbling up.

Myth #1 – Labor is the most painful thing you’ll ever do.

Good lord, let’s hope that’s true. Most of us agree it hurts plenty, but most of us also don’t really have that much experience with real pain. I imagine surgery without anesthesia or maybe that bone-regrowth thing that happened to Harry Potter (remember Skele-gro?) is worse, but in most normal, Muggle lives enduring serious pain is rare. That’s why labor is considered #1 on the pain list. Good thing we know labor is coming so we have time to prepare our mind, body and spirit for the challenge ahead. And then, if you need more help with the pain than the techniques you prepared with, there are drugs and epidurals.

Some women say it isn’t painful, just intense (which is totally true for a minority of women), but most women say it hurts like he**. Why? Because the uterus is a muscle attached to ligaments attached to bone. The baby is a solid object that has to squeeze through a cervix that’s spent months staying tightly closed and through bones that provide a mighty snug fit.

Contractions have to be strong to do that job and the uterus isn’t used to working that hard, therefore contractions hurt like Charlie horses. Since the body isn’t designed to shoot babies out like toothpaste from a tube, but to ease baby out to create the least amount of damage to mom or baby, contractions come and go every few minutes for hours (even days). That’s why it hurts!

Myth #2 – If your water breaks, labor is going to start immediately.

Not necessarily. It might take a long time (even days) for those contractions to kick in after your water breaks and most of the time, that’s completely normal. You don’t necessarily have to go right in to the hospital either. Let your doctor or midwife know about your puddle and follow their advice, but if everything appears normal, you don’t have a fever and your baby is still active, you can probably wait at home for labor to progress. Some women should get in to the hospital ASAP (and your provider will let you know), but for the rest of you, grab a towel and your biggest Kotex and be patient. It’ll happen.

Myth #3 – You have to tell your doctor/midwife that you don’t want a shave, enema or episiotomy.

Seriously? This myth won’t die. It’s been decades since we routinely did that stuff before a vaginal delivery. Once in a very, very great while a woman will need a bit of a clip so we can add a couple post-birth stitches without sewing any hair in there too, but in all those years and all those births, I saw that happen maybe twice.

And an enema? Uh-no thanks. There are some midwives who recommend enemas to kick labor into gear and it does tend to do the trick for some women. As a routine part of labor though, there isn’t a nurse alive who wants to give a patient an enema unless absolutely mandatory.

And episiotomies? Soooo old school. Again, once in a while it’s necessary (like to make room for forceps, which hardly anyone uses anymore; or in cases where baby is trapped in the birth canal and mom can’t stretch any further), but if your doctor still does them at most births, you might want to find a new doc.

Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Ore., with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? Email it to labornurse@fitpregnancy.com and it may be answered in a future blog post.

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