In honor of Labor Day, I thought I would take this opportunity to write about something I have lots of experience with – labor.
I’m not talking about the labor of keeping up with the laundry that comes with having so many children, or the labor of trying to meet deadlines at work by writing an award-winning story, or the labor I have recently realized it takes to start dating online.
No, I am talking about the labor that comes during childbirth.
Pregnancy is both exciting and scary for women. Our bodies are going through so many changes. One month you are able to see your toes and easily tie your shoes, the next month you can’t even remember what your toes look like because they are hidden by your ever-expanding belly.
As your due date draws closer, the anxiety begins to build and the question of when labor will begin consumes our thoughts. Every twinge and cramp stops a pregnant woman in her tracks and leaves her wondering, “Is this how it starts?” Less than 5 percent of babies are born on their actual due date and there is no way to know for sure, other than a scheduled induction or C-section, when a baby will arrive.
My second daughter, Aidan, was due May 24. The day came and went. Another week came and went. I remember thinking at one point that perhaps this baby had taken up permanent residency inside my uterus and was never going to come out. Almost two weeks after her due date, I went to the hospital to be induced. I guess she figured out that since she was going to be evicted from the womb she was calling home, she might as well give up and come out. She shot out in less than six hours.
Pregnant mothers become magnets for lots of unsolicited advice – some of it scary, some of it helpful and some of it just downright bizarre (and untrue). Teaching childbirth classes for 14 years, I heard a lot of stories about the things pregnant moms are being told regarding ways to start labor.
So I thought I would share some of the most common myths about how to get labor moving along, as well as the reality behind them.
Myth #1: Your labor experience will be just like your mother’s.
I am a mom who labored six times and every labor was very different. Some were easy and fast, some were long and more challenging. My labors ranged everywhere from six to 37 hours. Three of my labors were induced and three I went into on my own when my body was ready. Three children were born before their due dates and three were born well after their due dates. There is really no way to tell how a woman’s labor will proceed. Most of it depends on the baby’s size and position, the size of the mom’s pelvis and other factors that are different for every mom and every baby. Did you know that today’s babies are generally larger than babies born a generation ago? So don’t assume that your labor will play out like your mother’s.
Myth #2: There are ways to kickstart your labor.
Some of these are myths but some of them really do work, although, to be quite honest, you would be crazy to use them. No matter how “over being pregnant” you feel, keep telling yourself that the baby will come when it’s ready.
Castor oil – Many women swear by this as a way to induce labor, but it should really be avoided. The idea is that the castor oil stimulates the bowel, which in turn stimulates contractions. To put it bluntly, you are going to give yourself a bad case of diarrhea and leave yourself dehydrated. Getting dehydrated is not good for you or the baby. There are times when using castor oil does start labor, but that is because when you are terribly dehydrated, your uterus will contract. Do not be so desperate to go into labor that you take this stuff. Who wants to spend their last few hours or days of pregnancy on the toilet?
Spicy foods – Lots of moms are told to eat spicy food. Eat too much, though, and most likely you’ll just going to end up with a bad case of heartburn, as well as an unsettled tummy. Again, I promise labor will happen. Be patient, rest and enjoy feeling the baby inside of you. Soon enough he or she will be in your arms and you can eat all the spicy food you want without wondering if it is going to give you cramps strong enough to get a baby out.
Riding in a bumpy car – At the end of your pregnancy, most pregnant moms look like they have a basketball under their shirts, so this idea isn’t that far-fetched. What else do you want to do with a basketball but bounce it! The idea behind riding in a bumpy car is to literally bounce the baby out. The thought is that the bouncing motion will push the baby into the birth canal. When my first baby was 10 days late, I convinced my husband to drive me down a bumpy dirt road. It was a disaster. I told him to drive faster, he ended up with a backache from hitting the bumps so hard and by the time we got home we were both so crabby we weren’t even speaking. And still no baby.
Talk to your baby – If you talk to your baby, you can encourage it to come out. While the baby has been listening to the sound of your voice since their tiny ears developed, I’m not sure that they really understand what you are saying. Come to think of it, my children, who have been out of my uterus for over 10 years, listen to me about as well as they did when they were inside my uterus. When I was pregnant I asked them to please come out and got nothing. Today I can ask them to please pick up their stuff and I still get nothing.
Having sex starts labor – Let’s back up just a little bit. Sex is what got you pregnant and the theory is that it is what can get you un-pregnant. But when you are feeling like a beached whale, being intimate with your partner is the farthest thing from your mind. There actually are certain things about it that have been proven to help get the labor process going but it can be a challenge to get both parties involved. During one of my pregnancies, my obstetrician suggested that my husband and I try it. I looked at him like he was crazy and my husband had a panic attack, telling the doctor, “There is no way, what if I poke the baby’s eye out.” I can’t even begin to tell how many times a dad who is attending my childbirth class will ask me if hitting the child during intercourse is possible. No, it isn’t.
Those are a few of the myths floating around about labor and childbirth. Just remember that no one knows for sure when labor will happen or exactly what triggers it. It will happen when the time is right and at the end of it you will have a beautiful baby who was born on precisely the day they were meant to be born.
Happy Labor Day to all the expectant parents and parents who have labored to bring a child into the world and who have labored every day since then to parent them!