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Psssst. I want to let you in on a little secret.
If you’re feeling a little, well, freaked out about all the weird or scary things that might happen during birth, you’re not alone.
I remember spending tons of time researching and reading and attempting to empower myself before going into labor with my son, and still having a major case of the jitters. There were just so many unknowns; I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be ready.
Of course, it didn’t really matter if I was ready, because that baby was gonna come out, one way or another. And if you’re pregnant, so will yours. So today we’re gonna bust some myths and shatter some fears around childbirth.
In no particular order, here are the answers to those questions you’ve just been too afraid (or embarrassed) to ask.
Fear #1: Pooping in the Delivery Room
That’s right, I said it. And yes—horror of horrors—some women poop while giving birth, right there in the birthing tub or on the hospital gurney. And while that probably ranks way up there on your list of “most embarrassing things that could ever happen, ever,” it really shouldn’t be all that surprising.
The same muscles used to push out a baby, after all, are involved in emptying your bowels.
Back in the day, women were routinely given enemas in the earliest stage of labor to prevent this from happening, but the practice has largely fallen out of favor. Why?
Because it turns out that enemas provide exactly zero benefits to women in childbirth. Despite earlier reasoning, they:
- do not reduce the length of labor (as was previously thought),
- do not lower the risk of infection (from fecal matter contamination, that is—they may actually increase the risk, due to, ahem, anal leakage),
- can be really uncomfortable.
An enema is probably the last thing you’d want at 40 weeks, in fact.
So What’s a Mama to do About the Doo Doo…
First, know that while pooping during delivery is totally possible, it probably won’t happen. The prostaglandins your body releases to help the cervix efface and the uterus contract also have a cramping effect on the bowels. (In the twenty-four hours before I went into labor with my son, I must have gone to the bathroom no fewer than twelve times—by the time I was ready to push, my bowels were pretty much empty.)
But if you do end up doing the ‘doo, you probably won’t even realize it. Nurses and midwives have plenty of experience quickly and discretely cleaning up any accidents, so as not to distract you from the real work at hand. Seriously, these ladies have seen everything—they just wipe it up and keep it moving.
I can tell you, too, that once you’re in active labor, you won’t give a poop about anything other than getting your baby out.
Whatever you do, don’t hold back during the pushing phase out of fear that you’ll poop in the delivery room. You’ll risk lengthening your labor, increasing the pain, and upping your need for interventions.
Fear #2: What If We Don’t Make It to the Birth Center in Time?
Every woman who’s not planning a home birth has thought about it: What if I end up giving birth in the parking lot? Or worse—in the car?!
The thought certainly crossed my mind, and the second time around my fears were almost realized: As we were driving to the birth center on the day of my daughter’s birth, I very nearly instructed my husband to pull over so I could deliver our little bundle right there in the Volkswagen. Fortunately, we arrived just in time—I was “complete and +2” in case you’re wondering—and very nearly delivered my baby on the gurney.
Despite these totally normal, entirely understandable fears, it is extremely rare that a first-timer will wait too long to head to the hospital. In fact, it’s much more likely that you’ll arrive too early.
Still, if you want to get educated, here are step by step instructions on how to give birth in a car, written by a registered nurse on our team. The post includes interviews with mamas who gave birth in cars, plus several car birth videos.
Fear #3: What If My Baby Is Breech?
So you’ve tried moxibustion acupuncture and visited a Webster-certified chiropractor. You’ve had an external cephalic version. You’ve spent the last nine months balancing atop a birthing ball. But now your due date is merely days away, and your baby is still positioned butt-first. What to do?
Well, you’ve got a few options.
Option A is to accept the situation for what it is, grieve if necessary, and deliver via gentle Cesarean.
Option B is to find a provider who’s got some experience attending vaginal breech births. Breech is really just another variation of normal and delivering babies in this position has become a lost art.
Katie is very well versed on this topic and you can learn more about her:
- Breech water birth
- and her breech VBAC
According to the American Pregnancy Association, you should meet the following criteria in order to safely attempt a vaginal breech delivery:
- You’re at least 37 weeks along.
- Baby is in the frank breech presentation. (Some providers may green-light a complete breech baby for a vaginal delivery, too, as this is the next most favorable position.)
- Baby shows no signs of distress when his heart rate is closely monitored.
- Baby is not too big to pass safely through the birth canal. (Generally speaking, baby should be no bigger than 4,000 grams, or 8 pounds, 13 ounces.)
- Anesthesia is readily available and a Cesarean delivery possible on short notice.
- Labor is spontaneous and progresses steadily.
If you choose to move forward with a vaginal delivery attempt, know that your odds will improve significantly if you’ve got a skilled provider who takes a “hands-off” approach. Mamas who’ve had one previous vaginal delivery may have a higher chance of success than first-timers.
Fear #4: What If I Have “Back Labor”?
Ouch! So, what exactly is back labor? Well, it’s pretty much self-explanatory: it’s when the full force of labor seems to concentrate in the lower back, directly above the sacrum.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, it’s often accompanied by:
- Irregular contractions
- A labor that’s slow to progress, and
- A prolonged pushing stage.
In other words, exactly like my first childbirth!
The most common cause of back labor is the position of the baby. More specifically, the “occiput posterior” position causes the hardest part of baby’s skull to put pressure squarely on mama’s tailbone.
I’m not going to lie to you: this does not feel good. It’s not unbearable, it’s just really, really uncomfortable.
Managing Back Labor
So how do you fix it?
First things first. If you think you’re experiencing back labor, get up and get moving. Lying on your back only encourages baby’s full weight to rest on your spine. (If you must lie down, try lying on your side.)
To encourage baby to move into a more favorable position, try:
- Walking around
- Lunging, or
- Dropping down onto your hands and knees and doing some pelvic rocks
As for pain relief, counter pressure works wonders. Have your partner, doula, or labor support person use a ball type massager or apply pressure to the points located on either side of your spine. Or try leaning forward in the shower and directing the flow of hot water directly onto your back.
You can also soothe your back muscles by using a heated rice sock. (Basically, this is just a DIY hot water bottle: pour some uncooked rice into a tube sock, tie a knot at the top, and heat to the desired temperature in a microwave.)
Fear #5: What If My Labor Stalls?
A lot of “stalled labor” has to do with the outdated guidelines used to determine how quickly a “normal” labor should proceed.
Thankfully, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released new guidelines in 2014, redefining the start of active labor as dilation to 6 centimeters (rather than 4) and urging doctors to allow women to labor longer, so long as the baby is not in distress.
According to the new standards, first-time mamas should also be allowed to push for at least three hours, longer if they’ve had an epidural. These changes, however, take time to implement. Your doctor may still adhere to the old standards.
How Can You Lessen Your Chance for an Unnecessary Cesarean?
First, remember that it’s imperative to stay home as long as is safely possible. (This is where doulas can be such a help!)
The less time you spend on the hospital’s clock, the less you’ll be pressured to give birth within some arbitrary time frame.
Once you are admitted, you’ll want to create as calming and relaxing an environment as possible…
- Turn the lights down
- Listen to soothing music
- Diffuse your favorite essential oil
- Practice your childbirth affirmations
- Drown out the distractions around you
All these activities can help create a sense of safety, which can reduce your output of labor-stalling stress hormones.
If at some point, your labor does stop progressing, turn to natural remedies to augment your contractions, nipple stimulation and homeopathic remedies are a good place to start.
Fear #6: What If My Vagina Tears?!
I’m not sure if there’s anything that sounds worse than having a “tear” in your vagina— it just makes your skin crawl, doesn’t it?
But there’s no getting around it: during birth, the vagina and the perineum (the area between the vagina and anus) have to s-t-r-e-t-c-h, and sometimes that delicate skin just can’t stretch quite fast enough.
Anywhere from 40 percent to 85 percent of women delivering vaginally will experience some level of tearing, according to the American College of Nurse-Midwives.
However, the severity of the tear can vary widely. In fact, there are four distinct types:
- First degree: A first-degree tear is the least severe, involving only the skin, and will require minimal stitches to repair, if any. It should heal completely within a week or two.
- Second degree: Second-degree tears are a little more serious, in that they involve the skin and the muscle underneath the skin. They typically require a few stitches to close, and heal within two to three weeks.
- Third degree: A third-degree tear involves the skin, the perineal muscle, and the muscle that surrounds the anus (the anal sphincter).
- Fourth degree: By far the most serious, fourth-degree tears include the skin, the perineal muscle, the anal sphincter, and the tissue that lines the rectum.
Here’s the Good News
Third- or fourth-degree tears are uncommon, occurring in just 2 to 4 percent of vaginal births.
Want to Lower Your Risk of Tearing?
I wish I could give you a foolproof solution (with a 100 percent money-back guarantee)—but there isn’t one.
But, Perineal massage can help, as can opting for a natural childbirth (Pitocin and epidurals are both associated with a higher risk of tears).
But Let me Get Real With You
Tearing was my second biggest fear walking into my first birth, right behind having a C-section. And guess what? I ended up with a second-degree laceration.
I didn’t feel it one bit, and it healed up in a snap. In fact, my midwife explained her love and appreciation for the bounce-back-ability of the vagina like this: “Slap it together, put some stitches in it, and it’s good as new.”
Yes, she really did say that.
And, yes, I found her words to be true.
Want to Help Change the Birth Culture in our Country?
It starts by getting informed. I’ve just published the first week-by-week pregnancy guide from a natural perspective. Featuring insights from a certified nurse midwife (who happened to deliver both of my children), as well as a registered nurse and doula, the book is packed with helpful info on:
- Natural remedies for common pregnancy symptoms
- When to get an ultrasound (and when not to)
- Sex during pregnancy
- The truth about epidurals
- How to naturalize a surgical birth
- Natural pain relief during labor
- What to do during every stage of labor
- How to recover naturally
- And so much more
This book is evidence-based, empowering and entertaining. (No boring text books over here!)
If pregnancy is in your future, or if you know someone who is pregnant, please consider picking up a copy.
Support and Help for Mamas
While some mamas do get the birth of their dreams, I know firsthand that it doesn’t always work out that
way. But if we come from an informed place, we can feel good about the experience no matter what.
I hope every mama out there gets the support and resources she needs to have an empowered and grace-filled birth.
What pregnancy or childbirth fears do you have? Is this info helpful? Share below!
Discussion (20 Comments)
I’ve heard that applying oilve oil to your lady bits regularly while pregnant can help with the elasticity of your skin and therefore helps prevent tears. What are your thoughts on that?
Hi Tara, here is a great article from Genevieve about perineal massage: https://www.mamanatural.com/perineal-massage/
Just wondering what is wrong with a C-section? Both my parents are doctors and I was wondering if you have any sound medical evidence against C-sections – this sounds much more aggressive than I mean in to be, I am simply wondering. Obviously not when they are unnecessary as it is a surgery and every surgery has risks but I would always want to air on the side of caution as this is my baby after all! I would much rather have a super healthy baby than a natural birth that risks the health of my baby.
Katie - Wellness Mama
Great question. Medically, there are certainly more risks to mom with abdominal surgery and a lot more that can go wrong. Also, there is a lot of emerging research about the microbial aspect of birth and some researchers think that the lack of exposure to vaginal bacteria during birth (that doesn’t happen during c-section) may be some of the reason we are seeing such high rates of obesity, allergies, eczema, etc. If you’re interested, I’d check out the documentary Microbirth to learn more. If more research confirms that this is true, a non-vaginal birth could have tremendous long term risks to the baby in the form of chronic disease, obesity and other problems. Vaginal birth also brings a cascade of necessary hormones that are beneficial for both mom and baby. Certainly, there is a time and a place for surgical birth (I’d be dead without it), but our rates are too high. The World Health Organization says that the highest the rate should be is around 15% and the US is drastically higher than that. We are also ranked horrible in terms of infant and maternal mortality, despite all of our interventions and surgical births. Mayo clinic also explains some of the additional risks https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/c-section/about/pac-20393655
For back labor, get the Tupperware rolling pin made to fill with water. During labor, fill it with either hot or cold water (to your comfort) and coach can roll your back. I worked my husband pretty hard with our first using hot water inside the rolling pin. It helped me get through 18 hours of labor without drugs.
Hi, Awesome suggestion! I could have used that! Thanks! Happiness….
Just had my first baby April 19th and suffered a 4th degree tear. Without any meds. And as awful as that sounds (cringeworthy, right?), the truth is that the worst part was being away from the baby while they stitched me up for an hour! I am not only expected to fully recover, but to have the option of natural birth again in the future. A week and a half later and we’re both doing great. I haven’t had any different restrictions than any other new moms (I didn’t need narcotics, I am allowed to shower, use sitz bath, breastfeed, eat normal foods, carry the baby, bend over, go for walks – everything) and was only in the hospital for two nights instead of one. I think breastfeeding has so far been more challenging than my difficult labor. That is what we need to talk more about. ?
I recently had a conversation with my daughter in-law who had just given birth to my first grandchild, along with my daughter who had just announced her first pregnancy – yes! I”ll be a grandma TWICE this year!!! Anyhow, the conversation came around to defecating during labor, and they both rolled their eyes at me when I said it didn’t happen to me. The conversation didn’t go well as they insisted I didn’t know. So, here’s the thing: More than thirty years of interest in and being pregnant myself, and having lots of no-holds barred conversations with friends, just like everyone else does, never once did the subject come up! Of my own births – and, yes: I concede that it could happen and that L&D nurses would tidy that up without comment, I thought about all those conversations with friends, and innumerable birth videos both human and animal where IT DID NOT HAPPEN. So, I Googled it, and today’s narrative is all about maybe having a bowel movement during delivery! What’s this all about???
This a a Labor room nurse commenting. I like your advice, Genevieve. It’s realistic. I like your approach to breech presentations: do everything you can to get the baby to turn, and if that doesn’t happen evaluate how skilled at and willing your provider is to do a vaginal delivery. If you’re that strongly invested in one, then be willing to switch, even if that means something drastic like going to the Farm in Tennessee, where they wrote the book on vaginal breech deliveries. Also, perineums, just like faces and other parts of the body, have anatomical variations; they do not all look alike. Some will admit 12 pound babies or babies with hands next to their heads easily, and some will tear no matter what. And if the baby’s heartbeat drops, it might even be the wisest thing to, gasp, cut an episiotomy.
And one thing about birth plans. 90% of the birth plan is done when you choose provider and birthplace. If you don’t want to be tethered to a bed, hooked up to a a fetal monitor, poked with a painful IV, and given postpartum pitocin even if you’re barely bleeding, then don’t give birth in a place where that is the routine.
Have a good and safe birth from an L&D nurse who’s on your side.
My thyroid was trying to stop and I had a blood clot in my leg due to low thyroid. 4 months after my son was born my thyroid stopped. I had much pain at delivery and trying to breast feed due to low thyroid. I was undiagnosed Celiac….so my son and I were very low in nutrients since the fetus drains vitamins/good oils out of the mom in addition to not absorbing due to gluten. They looked at my blood after delivery and said it looked odd and never did anything about it. 2 years later a chiropractor with a dark field microscope saw my blood was full of yeast/fat that my liver should have cleared out after 5 hours ago eating and daisy shaped blood due to low essential oils like fish oil/evening primrose oil. My son as ADHD due to Celiac and not absorbing nutrients. I could not make breast milk when my thyroid stopped…had to stop breast feeding 4 months after my son was born. I had depression/could hardly lift the baby after he was born due to low thyroid. When the placenta is delivered progesterone goes down fast which helps thyroid. I had a hot flash which started this labor due to low progesterone/thyroid. I had two babies in a row that drained nutrients out of me. Prenatal multiple are low in nutrients and lack good oils. I did not have the prenatal when I was nursing my son. I did not know much about vitamins/health back then. Tests may not work to diagnose Celiac. TSH should not be used for thyroid since the pituitary may not be making TSH due to gluten hurting it and the thyroid. Free T4/free T3 should be measured for pregnant women. When I got the clot they didn’t realize low thyroid caused that.
Recently I was in the hospital for Lyme and they took away my thyroid medicine I had for 30 years due to taking TSH only. They also took away my vitamins/good oil/minerals/bioidentical hormones/Vit B12 shot etc and attacked me thinking my supplements caused me to be in the hospital. They lowered my immune system by what they took away…and gave me antibiotics for Lyme which hurt the gut lining more and lower the immune system. The took away Vit D3/Zn/Mg/fish oil/Vit C etc which helped my immune system. Some mom’s may have Lyme and the baby may get Lyme.
Hept B vaccine at 12 hours old may destroy the baby. I got MS when my thyroid went down due to low oxygen in my brain due to Celiac. The Hept B vaccine may have MS symptoms to people in France. I also got poisoned by colloidal silver that blocked my thyroid/other chemical reactions. Is silver still put into the eyes of babies? I got a shot for having a different Rh factor than my kids…has mercury in it …then breast fed. It makes me sad that I had to figure out my Celiac myself/figure out my low thyroid/figure out most of my health issues myself. A strong probiotic would have helped me. I had constipation …one bowel movement a month when I got my period….so at delivery I was constipated. ‘Breast feeding help would have been nice. I had to figure that out mostly myself. Telling the doctor I would not make breast milk would not help. They didn’t help me mostly my whole life. I finally went to Alternative help and figured out many things I needed to help my health. My son was very tired when he was born….I was tired….I didn’t know how to help him/myself. Insurance may not pay for Alternative help, but it saved my life. The chiropractor was the one who said stop wheat/sugar/yeast. Chiopractors are cheap. Now I do hair tests for good minerals/heavy metals and detox. Genova tests help for allergies/vitamins/hormone levels. Zyto scan tells infections/how organs/glands are working. Electrodermal testing showed my right adrenal is burned out due to what was taken away at the hospital. I would have appreciated more help after the 2nd delivery instead of them pushing me out of the hospital fast. I had no energy. Blood tests may not help for thyroid/Celiac/Lyme/Vit B12/Vit A/Fe/hormones etc. When the nurses offered me pizza at 2am and my son got colicky after I breast fed him I wish people would have said you maybe Celiac. More is known now, but doctors seem to ignore Celiac. They should be able to recognize it fast…constipation/low thyroid/low energy/low nutrients absorbed even without testing. They tested me for Celiac and said I was not Celiac 2X, but it was what was causing my MS and I was Celiac. Tests may not work to diagnose Celiac. Cyrex labs may not recently help.
God bless you! Thanks for all your hard work in the delivery room.
Hi Devorah, for what it’s worth, in our area, lots of people turn down standards like postpartum pit, and saline locks. Of course there are examples of staff disregarding the laboring/birthing person’s wishes, but generally it works well when people are educated on what the standards are, and know their options and preferences.
Yep, I had a 3rd degree tear with my first (a natural water birth at that!). It healed up after a few months and I’ve had no problems from it. One major drawback though is that I wasn’t allowed to take sitz baths, or squirt anything else other than plain salt water up there to help healing. And here I had planned to pamper myself with Katie’s wonderful perinium spray, and postpartum bath tea…. Ah well.
Thank you for sharing, Meg! Moms need to know that they will heal 🙂
Just to throw out another example, I had a fourth degree tear and no restrictions on herbal baths or anything.
Fear #3–Breech babies
There is an additional option not listed here that should ABSOLUTELY be considered before c-section. Chiropractic care–specifically the Webster technique–is gentle and highly effective in turning a baby into optimal birth position (head down, face down).
Breech maybe due to low thyroid so no energy for the baby to turn around to be born. They had to turn me around during labor to be born. I think the cord was around my neck when born. My mom had low thyroid, but didn’t get thyroid help until very old in life. Chiropractor help before pregnancy or early in pregnancy may prevent backaches during labor.
I am so happy you’re sharing this information! I’ve had 3 huge babies, up to 9 lbs 5 oz, with no tears, thanks to perineal massage! I’m only 5′ tall btw! I’ve had 3 episodes of stalling too, and it really helps to have someone with you who can help you trouble shoot what’s happening and turn it around. My dad, a chiropractor, has helped me do that, even successfully turned the baby in labor, so if you have a good relationship with your chiro, I highly recommend having them nearby.
Wow! Way to go mama!
Yes…Women maybe constipated and worry about it at delivery if thyroid is going down when pregnant so there is a bowel movement that may be present in childbirth. Drinking extra water/chia/raw walnuts and then a citrus fruit/pumpkin/carrot/exercise may help constipation. Zn/Se/enough iron/probiotic like Orthobiotic may help thyroid/bowel movements.
I got many stitches..deeper which riped open when I sat in a chair that fell back. I would like to know if a person would have stretched enough for delivery instead of being cut and if the stretched skin would go back in place afterwards. I can feel the stitches now…ridges…had many stitches.
Thanks for your great information that helps many people!