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Labor Day Surprises

You've read all the baby books and diligently taken notes as your childbirth instructor gave you information on riding labor contractions with a combination of breathing, massage, position changes, and, possibly, pain medications. Despite all your preparation, your baby may still deliver some surprises on labor day, since classes, books, and even your dearest friends might not be willing to share some of the grittier realities of childbirth. Even some of the most common labor scenarios can come as a complete shock if you've never heard anyone mention them, so it is helpful to have some insider knowledge beforehand.

For starters you can expect to forget every single thing they showed you in childbirth class. In the throes of labor, your mind may go blank. Breathing? Labor positions? Huh? You might find yourself suddenly lying on your back and gripping the bed -- the last thing you ever imagined yourself doing during labor. To prepare for this, confirm that your labor partner knows the breathing techniques, has photos of the birthing positions you've talked about, and is armed with a list of your birth wishes in both best- and worst-case scenarios.

At some point during labor, your teeth might chatter. About half of women in labor complain of shivering and chattering teeth, even though their body temperatures are actually higher than normal. This is normal and nothing to worry about.

The nausea is normal; digestion slows when you're in labor, and you may still have food sitting in your stomach when you start having active contractions.

Occasionally, you may vomit if you have an epidural because epidurals can cause your blood pressure to drop. In the movies, women growl or grunt and then cry when they have babies. You may already know that making these noises really can help you give birth; giving voice to your effort makes you feel more energetic and powerful as you ride a contraction or push your baby out during the second stage of labor. However, be prepared to rant and rave and perhaps even scream at your practitioner and swear at your partner. This is especially true if you haven't had any pain medication since you'll be exhausted and hurting and wanting it all to end. Don't be embarrassed; your practitioner has heard it all before, although your partner may be shocked.

You may make other, less cinematic noises too. For instance, the motion of your baby through your birth canal may cause you to pass gas, especially if you've had an epidural. You may be too busy to notice. But if you do notice, it?s important for you to know that this is a normal sound and there's no need to be embarrassed about it. You may also have a bowel movement during the delivery because your muscles are working to squeeze out your baby -- and everything else is bound to come out too -- especially since the baby is squeezing your rectum as his head moves through the birth canal. Again you may be too engaged in riding out your contractions to notice, but if you do, don't worry. Your practitioner has seen it before.

Your partner may be as stunned by the process of labor as you are, and you may be secretly (or not so secretly) fretting that he'll be put off by seeing you in the physically and emotionally chaotic stages of labor. Give him some credit: Your partner will be as awed by the process as you are, and his overwhelming reaction will be one of pride in how strong you are and joy at seeing the baby you've both created.

Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.

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