Labor 101: A Quick Overview for The Newbies (Vaginal Birth)

Aside from big scary things like death, kidnapping, loss of loved ones, etc, childbirth and labor were high on my list of things I was terrified for.  It is scary because it’s painful and there are thousands of things that can go wrong, complications do arise, but more often than not, everything turns out okay.  I am the kind of person who would prefer to know all I can before-hand because I am more afraid of the unknown than anything else.

There are so many schools of thought on labor out there that you can make yourself crazy- Natural vs Drugs, Doctors vs Midwives, Birth Plans, Water Births, etc., etc. All of these things are topics you should discuss with your OBGYN, Doctor or Midwife.  These are just one girl’s experience with the following labor things:


Birth Plan

My husband and I took a birthing class through our pediatrician’s office.  For first time parents, if you have the opportunity to do, I highly recommend taking one.  It will give you a general overview of what to expect during the rest of your pregnancy and labor.  Our childbirth class covered everything including making a Birth Plan.  The whole Birth Plan thing was huge in the city, the class covered it extensively and the hospital asked about it when we arrived.  Out here in the suburbs the words “birth” and “plan” were never in the same sentence.  I think a birth plan is great for some people for sure, however, I am the type of person that if I have a plan, and the plan changes last minute- it upsets me more.  That would be my only “opinion” on having a birth plan- childbirth isn’t something you can really plan down to the minute, it goes differently with everyone, and there are many game-time decisions that need to be made depending on what is happening. So, with that in mind, our birth plan was literally “get epidural – have baby.”


Kegel Exercises

For those of you not familiar with the famous Kegels- basically doing Kegel exercises is a work out for your vagina/pushing muscles.  To do them you squeeze or clench your vagina, hold it for a few seconds and let go, and do it over and over for a few minutes whenever you think of it.  “They say” doing these exercises can strengthen your vagina muscles which can help with the pushing part of labor.  So while you are sitting in the car running errands, try to squeeze and hold for 10 seconds at a time.  Another trick to try: start and stop the flow of pee while you are going to the bathroom.   I was fairly good about doing mine and I do think it helped with the pushing part of labor.


Water Breaking

I do have a few friends who experienced the dramatic water breaking that you always see in the movies.  But only a few. Often it was during the night so they were at home in their own bed and not at the grocery store, alone, with a crowd of people.  Mine only trickled and I could barely notice it.  Some labors started with contractions first with water breaking at the hospital.


OMG! Rush to the Hospital!

This was not my experience with the first baby.  It was a long slow process in the beginning of labor (You can read the whole long novel here).  Many first-time deliveries are long and slow with the exception of a few.  I had time to shower, sit around and stare at the clock, try to eat food and try to sleep before we made our way to the hospital.



I was initially unsure of the epidural since there is talk that it may not be great for the baby, however, every baby I know born with an epidural turned out fine.  I think I was most afraid for the actual pushing out of the baby, and knowing that the epidural would numb that pain, eased my fears, so I went with it.  Most of my friends opted for an epidural, though a few didn’t have time and went natural- and also turned out fine.  At that point, if you “don’t have time” for an epidural- then the baby is going to come out fast, and it will be over soon.

I probably should have asked for the epidural earlier for both my pregnancies as both times the doctors had a hard time getting it in (this is unusual), and it took four tries each time to do so- and by then the baby came not long after.  The harder and more painful your contractions are- the harder it is to sit still and upright for them to get it in- so just don’t wait too long to ask for it!

Once the epidural is in, you cannot get up and walk around.  They will also put a catheter in at this point- but I assure you, with the drugs in, this was totally painless for me.

Talk with your doctor if you want to know more about the epidural, how it works, or potential side effects.



Pitocin is a labor inducing drug/hormone, among other things.  One thing I found people would always say was “you don’t want the Pitocin, avoid it if you can” because it causes a harder faster labor.  Technically I was induced with both my births and my opinion is that I’d rather do labor harder and faster than hard and long.  It’s going to suck either way, so if the Pitocin is going to speed it along, I’m all for it.  I’ll note here that labor had started for me, the Pitocin was administered to help move it along since it wasn’t progressing.  Some women have to be induced prior to much progression and that is a little bit of a different process.  Here is what the Mayo Clinic has to say about Pitocin.  Again, talk it over with your doctor beforehand.


Episiotomy vs Tearing

Before actually going through it, this was always the creepiest part to me.  You will tear- everyone does, but you won’t feel it specifically, even naturally because there is just too much going on.  While an Episiotomy sounds cleaner (this is when the doc cuts you a bit to make the opening larger), I have found most doctors prefer not to do this anymore because they believe it actually can lead to a larger tearing.  If you just tear naturally, you’ll only tear where you need to.  Does that make sense?  The doctor likely will stitch you up right after you deliver.  Likely you will be a bit distracted by the brand new tiny human in your arms to really notice what the doctor is doing.  The stitches dissolve now a days which is awesome.  Again, discuss this option with your doctor if you are worried about this.


The Scoop about Poop

This is something many women wonder and often stress about.  I don’t think I actually pooped during either of my births, but that’s because I wasn’t pushing for very long.  I have friends who have, it’s seriously not a big deal.  You may not even notice you are doing it since the pushing muscles are basically all the same and there are six hands near your vagina and one of them will clean it up immediately.  Your partner will likely be back closer to your head, holding one of your knees up so he or she won’t even be able to see what’s going on unless they want to watch the baby come out.  My husband definitely took a peak, but this kind of stuff doesn’t faze him at all.


Contractions & Pushing

These things I find a little hard to explain.  There is so much going on at this point in labor that my brain sort of shut down and was just concentrating on existing.  Contractions felt similar to the period cramps I would get before pregnancy- only increased tenfold in strength, covering a larger area of my body.  When it was time to push I felt a whole lot of pressure and discomfort bearing down on my pelvis and vagina area.  With the epidural it wasn’t exactly pain, but more discomfort and weirdness.  It honestly felt different with both birth experiences.

Pushing to me was a little like pooping.  The doctors had me breathe and push in time with the contraction (which is already working to push downward for you).    


That covers the basic labor topics that I had questions about before I had a baby.  Up next is what goes on immediately following the baby’s arrival!

About SarahTBD

A mom trying to survive this beautiful disaster we call life with a family. Some days I rock it, some days I just survive it, some days are rough and some days I can’t get enough. I work part time from home trying to juggle the work hours with the everyday life with two children.