5 Childbirth Questions—Answered

By Nicole Pelletiere

You know that giving birth will involve mind-blowing pain, mind-blowing joy, and likely, some time in the hospital. But what about the rest? Here’s the real answers to your burning childbirth questions.

What does a contraction feel like?

Sort of like period pain, but worse. While the sensation is different for different women, contractions can typically be felt in your lower tummy, pelvis, back, and sometimes, thighs. Contractions start out uncomfortable, but irregular and weak. Then they eventually turn into intense, rhythmic pains that are more frequent and closer together. There are a lucky few that don’t find contractions too painful, says Alyssa Dweck, M.D., a Westchester, New York OB/GYN and co-author of “V” is for Vagina. Fingers crossed!

How long does labor last for?

Labor is different for everyone and can last from a couple of hours to a couple of days. For your first baby, you’re likely to dilate at one centimeter per hour, which means that your labor will likely take a while. Two things that can make labor take less time: Regular exercise during pregnancy, which gives you more endurance during pushing; and Pitocin, a drug doctors sometimes prescribe to induce labor.

After the baby comes, you’ll also have to deliver the placenta, which can take anywhere from a few minutes up to a half an hour as it separates from the wall of your uterus and expels from your body. Delivering the placenta will be less uncomfortable than delivering the baby, but you’ll still feel some cramping and pressure.

Should I get an epidural?

Up to 80 percent of women do, and the choice is totally up to you. Despite myths that epidurals will make your baby sleepy or increase your risk for a C-section, they’re considered safe. (Though on rare occasions, epidurals can cause a drop in blood pressure that can affect your baby’s heart rate.) If an epidural doesn’t sound right for you, breathing exercises are another option, which calm and control the way you deal with the pain by inhaling and exhaling in patterns.

If you do opt for an epidural, know that you will still feel pain—they just make the pain easier to manage. You still need to know when and where to push at the end of your labor, and so will still feel the presence of a contraction as well as the urge to push.

Will I poop while I’m in labor?

It’s every woman’s worst nightmare, but it usually does happen. But before you get red in the face, understand that it’s only natural for your body to want to clear itself while you’re pushing. (And more often than not, your nurse—whose seen it a million times—will take it away before you even realize anything has happened.) You can try and avoid it by going to the bathroom early on, or ask for an enema before delivery.

Do I really only get to eat ice chips?

This idea began decades ago when moms would get anesthesia to knock them out during childbirth. Vomiting when you’re out cold isn’t exactly safe, so doctors would advise eating only ice chips to minimize the risk. But even without anesthesia, doctors today still say that clear liquids are your best bet. So once you’re admitted to the delivery room, you’ll be limited to water, juice, and yes, ice chips. Don’t worry, you probably won’t be very hungry, anyway!

More from New Parent: Which Birthing Class is Right for You?