Most parents on the verge of meeting their new babies do everything they can to be prepared for the big day. Hospital bags are packed. Birth plans are written, discussed with the doctor, and then revised as the day gets closer. Some families even execute practice runs to time how long it takes them to get from their home or jobs to the hospital. Experienced parents brush up on their knowledge of labor and delivery, and new parents submerse themselves in Internet literature and baby tip books.
Yet, no matter how knowledgeable a parent is, there are bound to be some surprises on the way.
It can be small things, like not being able to switch positions due to the hospital required monitoring—or bigger things, like a baby who’s decided not to cooperate with the whole leaving the comfy womb thing. Perhaps it’s not Mom’s issue at all. Perhaps it’s that labor progressed so fast that dad simply can’t get to the hospital in time. Things pop up, and below is a list of some of the more common surprises moms have dealt with and shared. Their stories are sometimes scary, often unexpected, and, in some cases, accidentally hilarious.
20 Who’s That Doctor?
Although most moms stick with one provider throughout the duration of their pregnancy, doctors often use an on-call rotation when it comes to delivery. The Bump says that doctors also miss their patients' big days due to being out of town for vacation or conferences. They suggest checking in with the provider to see if they have anything scheduled around the approximate due date. If so, some practices allow expectant mamas to meet with the other doctors that share the on-call duties. This way, it’s not a stranger delivering the baby.
19 It Can Get Crowded In There
While some people imagine a fairly isolated birth with just a partner, a doctor and a nurse present, this is rarely the case. In addition to whoever Mom wants in the delivery room, there may be an entire cadre of people waiting to help with the baby. This is especially so if there are any expected complication with the little one’s health.
This can be anything from a known heart defect, a cord around the baby’s neck, or even just a stressfully long birth that can result in a fever. The Bump says this list of bystanders who quickly turn into a team upon baby’s arrival can consist of a nursery nurse, a neonatologist, an anesthesiologist, and more.
18 Very Quick Labors
There’s a phenomenon called “precipitous labor” that takes under three hours from start to finish. That means, if Mom didn’t go to the hospital at the beginning, she might struggle to make it into a delivery room on time.
Famous for her precipitous labor is comedian Seth Meyer’s wife, who delivered her baby in an elevator in her sweatpants while standing up. Over at What To Expect, another woman gives her firsthand account of what rapid labor is like. She relates that her baby made it into the hospital room before the anesthesiologist could finish rolling his supply cart in.
While most mamas do make it to the hospital (even if it’s just a hospital hallway), it’s not unheard of for deliveries to happen in cars or bathrooms.
17 That Cervix Won’t Dilate
The cervix ripening is a huge part of initiating and maintaining the progress of labor. It’s the narrow portion of the uterus closest to the baby chute, and it needs to both thin and widened in order to allow the baby to pass through.
However, in some rare cases, a woman's cervix may not get the message on their own. If this happens, WebMD says medications can be used to coax the cervix into cooperation. This includes Cervidil and other prostaglandin-based drugs. Their insertion into the body through the baby’s exit door can be uncomfortable, and Mom may have to lay down for hours afterward to make sure the drug remains close enough to the cervix to be effective. Most of the time, Mom actually just needs more time and gravity on her side, but that's not always possible.
16 There Can Be False Alarms
It can be really hard to know when active labor is starting. It can even be hard to know when a woman’s water breaks, which seems like it would be obvious. However, sometimes the sac rips but doesn’t break completely, leading to a slow, steady amniotic fluid leakage. In other cases, only one sac may rupture while the other stays intact.
Was that a mucus plug in the toilet? Contractions can be consistently five minutes apart, then two, then seven. VeryWell Family warns that women who go to the hospital will be examined for “false labor,” though that term is contradictory, and may be sent home. It’s not actually false. It’s the body’s practice run for the real deal. The site also says even experienced parents mistake false labor for baby’s intended arrival.
15 Baby Is Whisked Away
Mothers look forward to those first few moments of staring into baby’s eyes, holding that still-wet newborn on their chests, and helping the baby to latch on and feed. These warm moments in the delivery room may have to be skipped if something is wrong with the baby following delivery.
These complications can include the baby not breathing regularly due to the ingestion of meconium while in the womb or having a fever that may indicate infection or severe jaundice (often due to prematurity).
The baby will then be taken to the NICU, which KidsHealth describes as a place with specialized equipment and medical professionals solely focused on the care of newborn babies. Most infants in this specialized part of the hospital can still have visits with their parents.
14 Suddenly Breech
Though rare, some babies turn breech during the delivery process. We all know that babies have minds of their own, and whether it’s for comfort or a reaction to the sudden stress of labor, babies can flip.
Over at MumsNet, one woman recounted her sister’s labor. They knew the baby was cephalic (head down) because the mama had just had an ultrasound the day before going into labor. However, at the last minute, the baby decided to do a turn and ended up breech. For her sister, like for most women who have babies in the breech position in the United States, an emergency C-section was performed despite the fact that the scientific evidence supports breech birth being safe.
13 She Never Acts Like This
Oxytocin—the hormone that is responsible for contractions—has been shown to cause behavioral changes in laboring women. This often presents as Mom acting disconnected from the outside world, including her partner and even the medical staff helping her.
One theory is that Mom’s brain changes during labor and instinctually tells her to focus on herself, her breathing, and getting through each contraction.
It’s not necessarily that she means to be slow to answer questions or seem emotionally detached but more that this process requires her entire focus. Other odd behaviors, according to ResearchGate, can include lethargy and tiredness as well as sudden joy and alertness once the baby is born.
12 A Total Lack Of Sleep
Labor can last a long time—up to and over twenty-four hours. It can also be painful that entire time, and if Mom is in the hospital for the majority of it, she’ll probably be hooked to monitors that sputter and beep.
Even in the delivery ward, hospitals aren’t quiet places. They’re places of activity, moving nurses and doctors and families expectantly waiting for the birth of a new member. During all this time, it can be hard—if not almost impossible—to sleep. If Mama does fall asleep, she can be woken frequently by medical staff taking her vitals and checking in.
Most moms know to expect very little sleep after their babies are born. Few realize that they remain sleepless during the entire birthing process. One woman over at The Bump shared that she was so tired her body forced her to catnap between strong contractions. Smart lady!
11 Baby Isn’t The End Of The Pushing
Live births are still quite a mystery for those not in the obstetrics field. Unless a mama has been present for one, it can be easy not to realize that delivering the baby is a milestone in the process—not the finish line.
There’s something left to be pushed out. It’s the placenta, and it usually comes forth from the birth canal about five minutes after the baby, but it can take an hour or more in some cases. Healthline advises that doctors may want Mom to continue pushing.
Many providers will tug on the cord to aid in getting the placenta out, but this can lead to the breakdown of the placenta and hemorrhage in Mom. Some mothers are so wrapped up in those first few moments with their newborn that they don’t even notice the delivery and examination of the placenta.
10 Wait For Pain Relief
In many mothers’ minds, they plan to labor until the pain becomes unbearable or exhausting and then push the button for the epidural. However, it doesn’t always work like that. Many hospitals don’t just have anesthesiologists hanging around with nothing to do. Instead, there may be one or two in the ward who are busily administering to patients.
It can take time for the specialist to become available, time for them to set up, and time for the effect to kick in. The Bump says that there can be almost an hour gap between requesting the procedure and experiencing pain relief. It’s better not to wait too long if one is intent on a medicated birth. Fortunately, more and more hospitals in the U.S. are bringing nitrous oxide on board for birthing mamas, and it is readily available, as are sterile water injections and other more natural pain relief methods.
9 When There's Nothing Nice Mom Can Say
It’s been noted that even normally quiet, polite patients turn into foul mouthed-sailors in the delivery room. This isn’t guaranteed to happen, of course, but it also isn’t terribly surprising when it does. At Essential Baby, one man describes how he came up with the theory that swearing during painful experiences actually boosts endurance and tested said theory.
First, he said his wife swore a lot as the pain increased and became very apologetic afterward to the attending medical staff. They brushed it off (they see it all the time). The man—a psychology professor—then tested his theory by having two groups stick their bare hands in freezing water. One group was told to swear regularly while the other was banned from it. Those that swore were able to stay submerged longer than their tight-lipped peers.
8 Making Dad Leave
If the baby’s father is planning on staying in the hospital to help with care, be warned that some hospitals do not allow this. It seems antiquated to send dad away at night, but some hospitals have policies in place that do not allow for partners to stay if Mom and her baby are sharing their room with another family.
They say women can be uncomfortable with having an excess of strange men roaming the halls of the recovery ward. Made For Mums has a full page dedicated to this discussion and women’s reactions to learning that their partners could or could not stay with them overnight. We suggest checking in with the hospital before the delivery date to ask about their policies.
7 Developing The Shakes
Many moms experience teeth-chattering shaking that resembles the chills, although she may or may not be cold. While it’s natural to pile the blankets on her for comfort, that won’t help, says Mommyish.
In fact, the site goes on to say that moms who are medically assisted and moms who go completely natural both experience the shakes.
Why? They shake because the sudden and powerful cocktail of hormones can take its toll on the body, sending many women’s bodies into a shock like reaction. Doctors have also theorized that surging adrenaline can contribute to uncontrollable shaking.
6 Whose Baby Is That?
Moms tend to envision what their babies will look like—Mommy's eyes and Daddy’s dark hair—but that doesn’t mean that’s the way the kiddo is going to come out looking. Babies come out a little odd-looking as it is, with their coneheads and covered in that cheesy-looking vernix. On top of that, images parents saw during ultrasounds can be misleading.
What To Expect warns that babies, even ones that will eventually be dark-skinned, come out rather blotchy and pinkish. Hair and eye color can change and may not be set until years after birth. Additionally, babies that appeared round and full in their ultrasounds often come out without that chubby baby fat people picture on older babies.
5 Need A New Nurse
It may be surprising, but Parents advises that it’s not uncommon for birthing moms to request a nurse change during labor. Nurses are the main personnel in the room—the people the parents will work with the closest.
If Mom doesn’t vibe well with her attending nurse, the best thing to do is pull the plug before the clashing personalities cause any undue stress.
The site recommends asking to speak with the charge nurse and then politely requesting a new nurse be assigned to the room. While the exchange may be uncomfortable, it’s not impolite or rare. It'll be the last thing on Mom's mind shortly, too.
4 Do The Doo
It seems like the single most embarrassing thing that could happen. Mom is pushing, her nether regions are out and bared to the world, everyone looking for baby’s appearance and then... number two enters the room. A literal bowel movement right there on the tearaway delivery bed.
Parents says that accidentally letting one out is “extremely common” and doesn’t cause medical providers to bat an eye. In fact, it’s possible not even to know that it happened, and the medical team clears it away as fast as can be—so Mom isn’t horrified.
Before, it was common for doctors to give their patients enemas to clear the colon, but now that practice is discouraged. A little bit of number two is considered no big deal in the greater scheme of what’s happening in the delivery room.
3 Dad Can’t Take It
BT references a study from 2013 in which it was found that five percent of dads who attempt to be present for the birth of their children end up passing out. Even more than the fainters, an additional eight percent of dads ended up simply leaving the room and their partners alone with the medical team to handle the birth. Celeb dad Dax Shepard explained how... impacting... it was watching his wife, Kristin Bell, have a C-section (though he managed to stay in the room with her). He said, “...you notice your wife is completely disassembled. I can see inside of her.”
2 A Sandwich, Please
Most hospitals in the U.S. do not often 'permit' patients to eat during active labor. The thought behind this is that Mom could aspirate the food if an emergency were to happen, and it could complicate an emergency C-section. There’s been a slow reversal, with some places allowing small snacks to keep mom’s endurance, energy, and blood pressure up.
However, after burning through reserves of calories and despite all the recent craziness of the delivery room, moms can be surprised at how hungry they are. Babble says that moms can be brought food after delivery as long as everything went okay, either from visiting family or by the nurse.
1 Sweat It Out
Mamas may expect to sweat a lot during the pushing, but they may be surprised by how long the dewiness hangs around.
There’s a good reason for all that sweating, and it’s not the room temperature or even Mom’s body temp. All the retained water that built up over nine months needs to come out, and it does that over the next few days through Mom’s pores.
Popsugar says it’s okay to ask recovery nurses to change the bed linens often if they’re damp-feeling or smell like sweat. They’ve been asked for worse. Another tip to deal with this is to bring moist towelettes for mama to wipe her face, neck, and armpits with.
Feeling fresh is important.