About a week before my first son was born, I Googled mucus plug -- and then cringed at what appeared on my computer screen: lots of photos of thick, sticky vaginal discharge. (Seriously... ewww.) It's a term I never imagined I'd research, but understanding how this goo differed from more common bodily fluids -- and what that meant for my own pregnancy -- helped reassure me that what was going on with my 9-months-pregnant body was totally normal.
Weird, gross, and seemingly scary or taboo terms are all part of pregnancy, and it's important that women educate themselves about them, says Lanalee Araba Sam, M.D., an ob-gyn and the medical director at Elite Obstetrics and Gynecology in Fort Lauderdale. "Avoiding the 'yucky' stuff leads to fear and anxiety that isn't necessary," she says. "Knowledge is power."
Knowing the following seven cringe-worthy pregnancy terms can help you have an honest discussion with your doctor -- and empower you to confidently get through your pregnancy and delivery.
The gross term I Googled is different for every pregnant woman. As your cervix starts dilating and effacing, prepping for labor, it can release a semi-clear, sticky gooey substance that looks like phlegm. "It's super-thick, like you had a horrible gooey sneeze where you also broke some blood vessels and have some blood in it," says Dr. Sam. (Lovely, right?) The mucus plug usually makes its appearance sometime after week 38 or 39 and could appear little by little in your underwear or come out in the toilet with a huge plop. Although some people believe the mucus is a sign of imminent labor, it doesn't mean baby's arrival is hours or even days away. It simply means your body is getting ready.
The most important thing to know about the mucus plug is that it's normal to see it, and normal not to see it, says Dr. Sam. The only cause for concern is if you see bright-red blood that comes down like a menstrual period.
This one can make even a thick-skinned mom-to-be shudder. If you're at full-term and showing signs of dilation and effacement --but you're not in full-blown labor yet -- your doctor might offer to strip your membranes by sweeping a few fingers inside you, around your cervix, in hopes of releasing the hormone prostaglandin, which may help jump-start labor.
That might sound appealing when you're antsy and ready to meet your baby, but keep this in mind: While the procedure is completely safe as long as you don't have any complications (such as placenta previa or breech presentation), it's often more than a little uncomfortable -- and it's not guaranteed. "It's hard to know how long afterwards a woman will go into labor," Dr. Sam says. "I've seen it happen within 24 hours. But it doesn't always work."
Anything "breaking" sounds painful, but the truth is, when your amniotic sac breaks you may not feel it at all. (You might just think you wet your pants!) But more than worrying about pain, many moms-to-be are terrified that it'll happen in public and be totally embarrassing. Rest assured: That's actually not that likely.
"The majority of people don't actually have their water break spontaneously. It most often happens after they're already in labor," says Dr. Sam. "Sometimes we physically rupture the sac in the hospital to help increase contractions to move labor along or to assess for meconium, a sign baby is in distress." If your water is broken for you, it's done with what looks like a large crochet hook (again: cringe), but we swear it doesn't hurt.
Often confused with the mucus plug, the bloody show is a different gross goo that usually shows its less-than-lovely self at the very end of labor. "This gelatinous blood comes from a combination of secretory sources -- the cervix dilating, the vagina stretching and the uterus continuing to expel its contents. It tends to arrive after a woman has been laboring for hours and hours and is in the homestretch," says Dr. Sam. "When we see it, we check to see if she's fully dilated and ready to push. Usually it's a sign she is." If so, it's go time!
You probably have at least some idea of what crowning is -- it's when baby's head starts to emerge from the birth canal. "Once you're fully dilated, you have to push a little to get baby's head to mold so it can come out," explains Dr. Sam. "It comes forward each time you push, then sort of sneaks back when you're not pushing. Crowning is the moment it stays there."
At the point of crowning, your vagina is stretched as far as it possibly can, which results in another not-so-fun pregnancy term...
This one is pretty much what it sounds like -- a burning sensation in your vagina resulting from all the tension and pressure of your baby crowning. And though it sounds pretty freaky and not an enjoyable way to spend a Saturday night, getting to the crowning/ring of fire stage is actually pretty amazing, because it means you probably have only a push or two to get baby out. Then all the burning and pressure will subside. (Plus you get to hear, see, and hold your baby at last!) "It really is a crowning glory and moment of achievement," says Dr. Sam.
"You're pushing a 10-pound watermelon out of your vagina! Sometimes you're going to tear," says Dr. Sam. It's hard to estimate how many moms actually tear, but it's pretty likely, and more so for first-time moms because, as Dr. Sam says, "this passage hasn't been used before." But don't worry: It's not the end of the world -- or your sex life.
We're not going to sugarcoat it: Tears, and the stitches used to repair them, hurt something awful, especially if you skipped the epidural. Regular sitz baths and plenty of rest and good nutrition will help the tears heal within a couple weeks.
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