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A Day In The Life Of Labor & Delivery (15 Things That Always Happen & 5 That Don't)

The moment she walks through those hospital doors, she knows that her life is about to change forever. Whether her contractions are already two minutes apart and showing no signs of slowing down, or she’s arriving just in time for her scheduled c-section, every pregnant woman that enters the labor and delivery ward is going to remember this experience for the rest of her life.

From intake and admission to the actual business of giving birth, labor and delivery staff, nurses and obstetricians work around the clock every single day to help parents bring their babies safely into the world. While no two days are exactly the same (the same can also be said for labors!), there are certain things that soon-to-be parents, as well as the labor and delivery team, can usually count on. There are also a few things that nobody expects to encounter – things that can surprise even the most experienced medical professional and exceptionally prepared parent-to-be.

Wondering what goes on beyond the doors of labor and delivery? From plans to pain, to some of the most raw and intense emotions ever felt, here are 15 things that almost always happen, and five things that typically do not.

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20 Nothing Ever Goes According To Plan

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Ah, the birth plan: the expectant mother’s 10 commandments. But do they ever really pan out? More often than not, no, but that doesn’t stop some moms-to-be from creating a vision board the moment they discover they are expecting. Some dial it back a little and simply jot down their labor wishes using a pen and paper. Others come fully prepared with three pages of typed instructions laid out in 12-point font.

Sure, in theory, they are a great idea – having a list of things you want and don’t want during labor and delivery seems prudent.

But more often than not, these carefully laid plans end up going straight out the window when the time comes – for many reasons. Birth is spontaneous and unexpected and unpredictable in nearly every way imaginable. And who can really plan for that?

19 It’s Just Emotions Taking Me Over

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The delivery room is almost always an emotional rollercoaster and for good reason. The birth of a baby is one of the most terrifying, exciting and joyful moments in the life of any parent, and emotions tend to run high. Expectant parents often experience a wide range of emotions from fear to joy, to yes, even resentment and anger occasionally accompanied by a bit of yelling (usually by mom, who may be experiencing a tiny bit of discomfort!).

But sometimes, the pendulum swings the other way and there is peace and calm. In all, it's the rollercoaster that makes the experience so incredibly unique.

18 Child’s Play

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While there is really no such thing as an easy birth, it’s true that some women have much less complicated (and in some cases, shorter) births than others.

According to Parents.com, there are many factors that contribute to an “easier” labor.

These include: mom’s fitness level (fitness improves endurance, therefore pregnant women who stay in shape tend to have shorter labors), having a solid support system (a doula, for example, has been shown to reduce labor time by 25 per cent), the ability to distract yourself and relax (staying relaxed means your muscles are loose) and laboring in the tub (buoyancy promotes more efficient uterine contractions).

17 They Call It Labor For A Reason

On the flip side, there are always going to be some moms who have a slightly harder time than others when it comes to bringing their babies to the outside. While some women give birth in a few short hours and walk out the very same day with their bundles, others experience difficulties such as: prolonged labor, a negative reaction to pain medication (or in some cases – not having pain medication work at all), larger than anticipated babies, and tearing (ouch!). In rare circumstances, there can also be unforeseen complications that cause a bit of delivery room drama (more on that later). Fortunately, L&D staff are trained to overcome these common obstacles, expected or not.

16 Fluids Happen

Just like labor and delivery are a natural part of life, fluids are a natural part of labor and delivery. Childbirth is chaotic and bustling and messy, and often women can become self-conscious or embarrassed about some perfectly natural leakage that tends to escape during the labor and delivery process – sometimes, from all ends!

But don’t worry, L&D staff have seen it all, and nothing phases them on the job.

It’s just another day, and certainly, nothing to stress about. From waters breaking (amniotic fluid) to nausea (vomiting) to yes, even the dreaded number two right on the delivery table (hey, that just means you’re pushing effectively!), fluids happen, and that’s okay. Goodbye, modesty!

15 The Waiting Game

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You’ve waited nine whole months for labor to start, and when it finally does, the last thing you want to do is wait some more – but bad news: a big chunk of labor and delivery is simply spent waiting around – and not just for the baby!

Whether it’s anticipating the next contraction, wondering when your water will break, looking for the doctor to update you on your progress, or calling on the anesthesiologist to provide some sweet, sweet pain relief, it may seem like all you’re doing is waiting – especially for the main event! Waiting is a surprisingly common theme for most parents-to-be during childbirth, with a couple exceptions, of course.

14 Never Mind, It’s Go Time!

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But sometimes, there’s no waiting around at all. In fact, according to Pregnancy Magazine, most women can count on their second and third labors being much faster than their first. While first-time moms are generally not encouraged to even leave for the hospital until active labor begins, sometimes, nobody waits around – not even the guest of honor!

While most labors (especially first labors) can take hours or even days, some babies decide to come fast and furious leaving very little time to prepare.

Experts aren’t exactly sure why some women labor more quickly than others, but a good rule of thumb is if women in your family have all had fast births, you may want to head to the hospital at the first signs of labor – just to be safe!

13 Just Checking In

Electronic fetal monitoring is a fairly routine practice that allows doctors and nurses to check on how well the baby is coping with labor. This is accomplished by monitoring their heart rate and can be done both internally (using an electrode which is attached to the baby’s head) and externally (using a doppler or a transducer which is attached to the abdomen). According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the fetal heart rate may change as the baby responds to the changing conditions inside the womb. If the monitor happens to pick up any abnormalities, doctors and nurses are able to assess and respond quickly.

12 There’s No “I” In Team

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Teamwork makes the dream work, and in no other case is this truer than during childbirth. While it’s obvious that the mom-to-be does all of the heavy lifting, she is usually supported both emotionally (partners, friends, family, doulas) and physically (nurses, OBs, midwives, an anesthesiologist, specialists, medical students) by a team.

Sometimes that team is a veritable arsenal, and sometimes it’s only a few key players, but the important thing is nobody goes it alone after walking through the doors of L&D.

Emotional support is especially key, according to The National Center for Biotechnology Information. Research has shown that women who receive good support during labor and childbirth tend to have shorter labors, are able to control their pain better, and to have less need for medical intervention.

11 Delivery Room Drama

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According to Lori Smith, CRNP, situations arise all the time in the labor and delivery unit that require immediate attention. There are several extremely common labor and delivery complications that could potentially (but not always) lead to an emergency, including: pre-term labor, failure to progress (labor that stalls or stops, most commonly after 20 hours or more), fetal distress, shoulder dystocia (when baby’s shoulders get stuck during delivery), and the onset of rapid labor. The good news is that emergencies, in general, are quite rare, especially if there is no history of complications or illness, and the mom-to-be has received good prenatal care.

10 Paging Dr. Feel-Good

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From simple breathing and relaxation techniques to the use of laughing gas, narcotics and the ever-popular epidural, there is often no shortage of pain management options for laboring mothers inside labor and delivery.

Most women reach for some method of pain relief to counter the physical discomfort of childbirth, and this can be done with or without medication.

Non-medicated pain relief techniques include relaxation, breathing, being mobile, nitrous oxide (laughing gas), massages and water therapy, while medicated options include an epidural, a spinal (a quicker acting single injection at a slightly lower spot than the epidural), and narcotics (such as Morphine or Demerol).

9 Pink Or Blue?

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Given how today’s technology enables us to learn about each and every facet of a pregnancy, it’s hard to imagine a time where nothing was known about the baby (particularly when it comes to gender) until the moment of birth. In previous generations, everybody had to wait until delivery to find out whether it was a boy or a girl. And while many expectant parents today simply can’t wait nine long months to know if they should decorate their nursery pink or blue, some still choose to keep it a mystery right up until their baby is born. Some things are just worth waiting for!

8 Memories Will Be Made

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There is nothing quite like the moment you meet your new baby – especially if you have just become a parent for the first time.

After all, there is no other life event quite like it.

While the most poignant memory will surely be those precious first family bonding moments, there are many other memorable parts of labor and delivery (and not just the pain parts!) that many parents often remember for years to come: that first cry, where and when mom’s water broke, the exact time the baby was born, the funny (and maybe a little awkward and embarrassing) moments you simply had to laugh about, and the encouraging words from labor partners and nursing staff.

7 If These Walls Could Talk

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If the walls in the labor and delivery unit could talk, each and every one would share a story of endurance and perseverance. Somehow, across the globe, every single day, women from all walks of life find the strength and courage to overcome their fears, their pain, their anxiety and sometimes, their absolute, complete exhaustion to bring their baby into the world. Sometimes their birth may not go according to plan, but regardless of how they do it, every woman finds it in her to reach for a strength they never knew they had to give their baby the best start possible. No wonder they call it a miracle.

6 There’s One Born Every Minute

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According to the World Factbook, there are about 258 worldwide births per minute – or 4.3 births every second! Out of these 258 babies, it’s fun to wonder how many of them are destined to become a trailblazer. How many will become the next sporting legend, or pioneer a life-changing medical breakthrough? Perhaps right this very minute, a future world leader is being born that will lead a nation to prosperity.

Every day in labor and delivery, a baby is born that will help to shape our future, and lead others to do the same.

While not every child that is born is destined to do revolutionary things, every child will inevitably make a huge impact in the lives of those around them, for years to come. It’s pretty neat to think about which delivery room the next “Great One” is in right now!

5 Sleep Is For The Weak

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One thing that certainly does not always happen in labor and delivery is precious, precious sleep. In fact, there's a good reason why many women are encouraged to get as much rest as possible during the early stages of labor. Once those contractions start coming fast and furious, there’s no time for rest, let alone some much-needed shut-eye! While a little labor snoozefest is not really on the table for most women, there are many other ways to try to rest and relax as much as possible to preserve your energy. Some women are able to get relief by soaking in a tub or listening to calming sounds or music. Hypnobirthing is a popular method of relaxation, and involves special breathing, relaxation, visualization and meditative techniques that could contribute to a more relaxing and restful experience – at least until the action really starts!

4 What Do You Mean It’s Too Late?

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Sure, a quick labor sounds appealing, but often when the baby is in a hurry to meet the outside world, there isn’t much time to prepare – and that, unfortunately, means there isn’t always time to administer pain medication, either. Sometimes, labor progresses so quickly that by the time admission is complete, hospital gowns are on and monitors and IVs are set up, it’s time to push.

While some of the most frightening words a woman in labor can hear is “sorry, but it’s too late for any pain medication”, natural methods of pain relief such as proper breathing techniques can make all the difference in the world.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, breathing has a calming effect, increases oxygen levels for both mom and baby, and helps mom remain in a more relaxed state, which will help her respond more positively to the onset of pain.

3 Nice To Meet You, I’ll Be Delivering Your Baby

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The good news is that once the time comes, there will be an expert L&D crew on hand to help you deliver your baby. The bad news is that the practitioner (whether it be a midwife or obstetrician) that you’ve been seeing for the last nine months on a regular basis may not be one of them. This can be a result of something as simple as bad timing – your doctor or midwife may not be on call when you go into labor, or they may even be on holidays. It’s a good idea to ask your primary practitioner if you can meet other members of the team ahead of time (i.e. a secondary midwife or another member of the OB on-call team), so you’ll feel more comfortable on the day-of.

2 But That’s Not What The Lobby Is For

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We’ve all heard those stories of extremely close calls, where moms barely make it to the hospital before their baby makes its grand entrance into the world.

But sometimes, mom doesn’t make it past her own front door, let alone through the doors of labor and delivery!

Late night comedian Seth Meyers and his wife Alexi know this all too well. The recent lightning quick birth of their second son Axel happened so quickly that Alexi ended up giving birth in the lobby of their apartment building. This type of extremely rapid labor is referred to as precipitous labor, which is characterized as labor that lasts less than three hours.

1 That Perfect Birth

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Sometimes, even the best-laid plans – in this case, the most thorough birth plans and idealistic expectations – go astray. Every parent-to-be envisions what their perfect birth will look like, but when all is said and done, few will have that vision realized. For example, a calm and serene planned home birth may turn into an unscheduled hospital delivery, an induction may erase plans for a more natural birthing experience, and an unexpected precipitous labor may result in delivering your baby in the car, or in the lobby of your apartment. While the idea of a perfect birth may be nothing more than a pipe dream for most parents, at the end of the day, what truly matters is that everyone’s wishes are heard and respected, and a healthy, happy baby is the result!

References: Parents.com, Medical News Today, Pregnancy Magazine, Hopkins Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, World Factbook, The American Pregnancy AssociationLate Night With Seth Meyers

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