3 Questions About Labor You've Been Too Embarrassed to Ask

Get inside info on what to expect from a labor nurse.

Young Pregnant Woman Standing Holding Back
Photo: ZephyrMedia/Shutterstock

Do you need to shave down there before the big day? Is it better to have an episiotomy or a tear? Let a labor nurse tell you everything you want to know, but may not have the guts to ask.

Amniotic Fluid vs. Normal Discharge

If there is one constant during pregnancy, it's that everything about your body is constantly changing. And since everything about your body feels like it is changing, including your discharge, you begin to wonder if any leaks are urine, amniotic fluid, or something else.

What's the difference between normal discharge and amniotic fluid?

How can you tell the difference between what's normal discharge (and for many of us, there's a lot more than when we're not pregnant) and a leak of amniotic fluid? Most of the time, vaginal discharge is creamy, mucousy, or sticky and doesn't smell bad. Most of the time, amniotic fluid is watery, hopefully clear, but sometimes yellow, green, or with white specks. It's usually easy to tell the difference between discharge and amniotic fluid, but it's not so easy to tell the difference between amniotic fluid and urine.

Believe it or not, one of the most common reasons people come to the maternity unit is because they're leaking something. Most of the time, it's not amniotic fluid but— you guessed it—pee. When you've got a baby pressing on your bladder, sometimes it leaks.

If you start leaking fluid, put on a pad and ask yourself some questions:

  1. Is it clear, or does it have a color?
  2. Does it smell like urine or have a bad smell?
  3. Does it only happen when I laugh, cough, or jump on the trampoline?
  4. Can I control the leak by squeezing my muscles down there?

If it looks like pee, smells like pee and you can stop the flow by squeezing muscles or getting off the trampoline, it's probably pee. If not, it might be amniotic fluid. It still might be pee but please call the doctor/midwife to discuss it. A true amniotic leak can't be controlled, usually continues leaking once it starts (but not always), is generally clear (with the occasional white specks) unless there's meconium and may or may not be followed up with contractions.

Your doctor/midwife should know about it if your discharge is anything other than what you're used to. When in doubt, call. If you get a major leak, your pants will be wet, your car seat or couch will be wet, you'll make a splash at the grocery store and there won't be any doubt in your mind. Call your doctor/midwife anyway and get ready for labor.

Episiotomy vs. Tearing

Is it better to have the episiotomy or risk tearing?

Tough choice, right? Hopefully, you won't have to experience either, and most of the time, you won't be the one to make that choice.

Most people say they don't want an episiotomy, and most doctors and midwives don't do them routinely. They save that for those times when the perineum (vaginal tissue) just won't stretch anymore, and they really, really need to get that baby out. Then they make a snip, and delivery is usually pretty quick after that. Lots of people have tears, and they're generally easy to repair. Most practitioners prefer a minor tear to an episiotomy and are skilled at sewing them up.

Ask your provider if they routinely perform them. If they're pro-episiotomy and it's an idea you're opposed to (and most of us are), find someone else. It's one of the last decisions that get made in delivery and, unfortunately, one you won't be participating in. You'll be very busy pushing, pushing, pushing, and if you need an episiotomy, your practitioner will probably just go for it.

Waxing vs. Au Natural

For many generations, it was routine for doctors and nurses to shave the pubic area before childbirth. The thought was that shaving created a sanitized environment for birth. But exhaustive clinical trials done since the 1920s have shown that shaving is an unnecessary procedure except in the case of surgery where an incision would be made. Still, many expecting parents want to know if they should worry about their hair down there.

Should I wax before the big day?

Neither waxing nor shaving is necessary or expected. We see it all from full-on Brazilians to full growth. We don't shave patients in labor anymore (except for a very small area right over the top of the pubic area prior to cesarean delivery) and the hair doesn't get in our way. We just don't care about the hair. Really.

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