What’s childbirth really like? Ask moms who deliver babies for a living! Here, obstetricians, family doctors, and certified nurse-midwives share their hard-won insights about going into labor.
1. You’re the boss.
“I understood that I was the ultimate decision maker. Moms don’t always realize that hospital protocols are really just suggestions! I was able to use my intuition and informed decision-making skills to decide if they were appropriate for me. For example, as a doctor, I knew that it was okay to refuse to answer questions about my religion during the admission process. And I also felt confident in calmly directing all nonessential people to leave my room, stop yelling, and let me birth my baby in peace. I think that came from years of giving nurses direction in labor and operating rooms—many women don’t understand that just because they’re in the hospital, they don’t have to be the passive recipient of someone else’s stress.” —Jennifer Lang, M.D., 41, an ob-gyn and author of The Whole 9 Months: A Week-by-Week Pregnancy Nutrition Guide With Recipes for a Healthy Start
2. Make it personal.
“It was hard for me to go from being a midwife to being a patient, but it helped that I knew and trusted my own midwife completely. So often, women choose the first ob-gyn or midwife they meet, even if they don’t really like the person. Don’t settle! There are so many providers out there who will give you attention, love, and safe prenatal care. If you’re at a large practice, try to meet with each doctor or midwife at least once prior to your birth—and if there is one you don’t like, think seriously about how safe and comfortable you’ll feel if she turns out to be the one on call when you go into labor. If it’s too late to change practices, consider hiring a doula to help eliminate some of the mystery about your labor team. She’ll be someone you totally trust, who’ll be by your side the whole time.” —Jo Zasloff, 36, a certified nursemidwife with Central Park Midwifery, Mount Sinai West Birthing Center, in New York City
3. Know when you don’t have to worry.
“As a doctor, I knew that any labor and delivery can transition rapidly from an uncomplicated process to an emergency scenario. But I also had full faith that my labor team could keep my baby and me safe. I knew firsthand that my ob-gyn could deliver my baby in less than 60 seconds if an emergency C-section was required—and this knowledge kept all my fears at bay.” —Chelsea Mutscheller, 31, an ob-gyn at Intermountain Avenues Specialty Clinic, in Salt Lake City, Utah
4. Keep busy during early labor.
“For my first son, I actually went to work the morning after my early labor began and saw patients up until I was 3 centimeters dilated. I knew with a first baby I likely had a lot of time to fill and that working would help distract me. Around noon, I went home to rest but still didn’t go to the hospital until 7:00 that night. It was a real luxury to have that understanding and confidence in the process.” —Jackie Rohrer, M.D., 37, a family physician and ob-surgeon at Foothill Family Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah
5. There is a smart way to push.
“Since I’d coached many patients through the process of pushing, I was able to really focus on that when it came time to push out my sons. I used the standard technique, which is to hold your breath and push for ten seconds, then take a breath and do it twice more (for a total of three pushes per contraction). That doesn’t work for everyone; some women really need to vocalize when they push. But I was surprised by how controlled I felt. With my second son, it took three pushes and he was out!” —Dr. Rohrer
6. Always speak up.
“At my 36-week checkup with my first baby, my doctor was sure he was head down. But I knew that if a baby is breech, 37 weeks is the optimal time to try to flip him, so I said, ‘Could we just doublecheck his position?’ She wheeled in the ultrasound, and yup, he was breech! Fortunately, we were able to turn him before I gave birth. But if I hadn’t known to check then, I might have ended up needing a C-section.” —Dr. Rohrer
7. Manage your pain.
“I wanted an epidural, but I also knew that getting one is not an instantaneous process. They have to get the anesthesiologist, discuss risks and benefits with you, sign consent, check blood work, run an IV, and so on. So I still practiced breathing techniques and learned about different laboring positions during my pregnancy, which were really useful during that pre-epidural stage. Women who aren’t prepared for any pain during labor can have a negative birth experience—so I tell all my patients to practice pain-management techniques regardless of their epidural plans.” —Dr. Mutscheller
8. It’s not necessarily easier if you’re a doctor.
“I had coached so many moms through pushing that I was sure I could push my baby out—but my baby’s head had other plans. I ended up having an emergency C-section after hours of pushing. It’s good to go in with preferences, but be prepared for those to change, depending on your actual birth experience.” —Meadow Good, D.O., 38, assistant professor of ob-gyn at the University of Florida Health in Jacksonville
9. When your water breaks, it’s not always like in the movies.
“As educated as I thought I was, when my water broke after a long day of work at my clinic, my first thought was that I had just urinated on myself! It wasn’t a big ‘gush’ like I’d been expecting.” —Dr. Good
10. Pack snacks, then pack some more.
“People forget that labor is a marathon for Mom and her support people. I have seen many hungry soon-to-be dads lose steam at the bedside, pass out from hunger, or even miss the actual birth because they had gone looking for food! So I was sure to remind my husband to pack nonperishable snacks for himself in our “go” bag. Of course, life got in the way and he forgot, which led to a desperate 1 a.m. french-fry run! I still tease him about how this could have been avoided if he’d remembered to pack a preemptive protein bar or some peanut butter crackers.” —Dr. Mutscheller
11. Yes, it hurts.
“I’ve delivered more than 500 babies, but honestly? I was overcome by how intense the whole experience really was. I remember telling my husband, ‘I can’t believe that I help women do this all the time!’ Before I had my daughter, I didn’t really understand the feeling of having the urge to push. But now I know how uncontrollable that feeling can be! There are instances when I have to ask a woman not to bear down or push because her cervix isn’t fully dilated or we need to allow the baby to rotate. After having given birth, I have a lot more sympathy for how difficult that is.” —Jo Zasloff.
12. You can change your mind about an epidural.
“Before having my kids, I assumed that any mother who wanted a medication-free experience was somehow being a masochist. But I took a hypnobirthing class, and I was amazed at how effective it was. It turned out I didn’t want drugs at all; I just needed calm, quiet, and not to be touched. My experience completely changed the way I talk to patients about birth.” —Dr. Lang
13. Be flexible in the moment.
“I was sure I would want to labor in a tub, but when I was actually in labor, I didn’t want to be anywhere near water! Instead, I sang ‘Child of Mine’ by Carole King through my contractions. It sounds totally cheesy, but it worked. Now I’m able to talk to women about the importance of staying flexible and having lots of different pain management options in your toolbox, because you won’t really know until you’re in the moment what works for you.” —Dr. Rohrer
14. Do it your way.
“It was super-helpful when someone told me during labor, ‘You can do this unmedicated, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to.’ Now, when a mom guiltily tells me she’s getting an epidural, I tell her there is no judgment from me—I had three epidurals myself. You get to do childbirth your way. That means you can do it unmedicated or you can get the epidural. There are no rights or wrongs in labor, just what you need in that moment.” —Vicki O’Neal, 47, certified nursemidwife and women’s-health nurse-practitioner at Intermountain Alta View Hospital, in Sandy, Utah
15. There’s nothing like this love.
“Of course, I knew that all moms love their babies—but immediately after birth, I was surprised and overwhelmed by the depth and power of the love I felt for this tiny baby. He was placed skin-to-skin on my chest and it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced.” —Dr. Mutscheller