By the time you reach your due date, you’ll be feeling pretty clued in on what’s going to happen next. You’ve been to antenatal classes, sussed out pain relief options and written your birth plan. But a few things might still take you by surprise.
So that you’re not caught off guard, we’ve put together a list of major childbirth surprises. From coping with your first night, to the lowdown on your shrinking tummy, here’s the real story of what happens and how you can get ready…
1. Contractions start slowing down
It’s easy to assume that contractions start mildly and become increasingly painful until, voilà, your baby arrives. In reality, most women get a short break when they’re fully dilated (when your cervix has opened to 10cm) as contractions become less regular and their purpose changes from opening your cervix to moving your baby down the birth canal. This is a good time to rest and gather your forces for the pushing stage.
2. Accidents happen
It may be one of the most mortifying experiences of your life, but peeing or pooping on the table is not all that uncommon. While such an experience may haunt you for a long time after, keep in mind that your midwife or doctor won’t think twice about it — they’ve seen it many times. You may also be offered an enema to clear your bowels or be hooked up to a urine bag.
3. You’ll have to give an extra push
You’re celebrating reaching the finishing line, but now your midwife tells you to get ready for another push. No, you’re not having twins — you’re delivering your placenta. If no one’s warned you about this stage, it can take you by surprise.
When Jennifer See, 29, mum to 18-month-old Kara, gave birth, she was amazed that no one had mentioned the placenta. “We’d covered every single aspect of labour in antenatal classes, but we weren’t given any information about what happens once your baby arrives,” she says. “Luckily, I had a brilliant midwife who talked me through exactly what was happening.”
4. Your post-birth pictures might need some styling
After labour, you’ll understandably be on cloud nine. You’ve done an incredible thing and your new baby is finally in your arms, but the truth is, you’re probably not looking so hot. However, this can be addressed with a simple camera trick.
Black and white photos generally look more flattering and can help reduce any redness. It also helps to switch off bright overhead hospital lights and use natural light when taking the photo. Most iPhones and digital cameras will give you a black and white option, or simply use Instagram to apply a retrostyle or black-and-white filter to photos.
5. You won’t have breastmilk straight away
Although your baby will happily latch onto your boobs soon after being born, it’s not milk that first appears — it’s a thick, yellowy substance called colostrum. It’s important that your baby feeds because it’s full of antibodies that protects her from bacteria and viruses. It also has a laxative effect that helps her get rid of her first poo, called meconium, which will be thick and tar-like.
Colostrum is filling, too, so your baby won’t go hungry, even though she’ll only consume around a teaspoon of it in her first 24 hours. Somewhere between two and four days after giving birth, your real milk will come in. Cue breasts like Dolly Parton, so prepare to be well-endowed.
6. Your bump disappears more quickly than you think
The good news is your pregnancy belly is mainly due to your enlarged uterus (womb). After a week, it will have shrunk by 50 per cent and by four weeks after birth, your uterus will have returned to its normal size.
Breastfeeding releases oxytocin, which causes your womb to contract and encourages it to go back to its normal size. Meanwhile, your tummy muscles will also be beginning to knit together, although this happens slowly over several months.
7. Your feet may grow — permanently
If you’re looking forward to hopping right back into those heels once baby arrives — don’t. We’re talking even four months after giving birth and your maternity leave has ended. That’s because relaxin, the same hormones that are released to relax the pelvic area, also loosen the ligaments in the feet.
Instead of forcing your feet into your old kicks while hoping they’d shrink to pre-pregnancy size, you’d do much better to invest in some new ones, lest you face foot problems like corns, bunions and blisters.
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