The average full-term newborn weighs about 7.5 lbs. So we’re conditioned to expect our babies to be about 6.5 – 8 lbs. Much bigger than that, and women start freaking out.
I was searching around online forums for stories about babies born naturally at 37 weeks (you wouldn’t believe how many noted they were induced for ‘discomfort’ at that time…). It seemed most did just fine. But one thing I noted was that some of those babies did weigh over 7 lbs. at birth, despite being a few weeks early, and almost all the moms said, “Just think how big s/he would have been if I’d gone a couple weeks longer! Oh no!”
Which leads me to ask…why are women afraid of big babies?
Somehow, we’ve been conditioned to believe that smaller babies are easier to deliver, and bigger babies are much harder to deliver. Because the opening’s only so big, right?
There are a lot of factors in how big the birth canal is. Being full-term (not induced), birth position, how quickly the birth occurs, the size/shape of your pelvis…. Obviously you can’t control all of those, but you can control some.
Full-term — This matters because your body produces more of the hormone relaxin in order to loosen your hip joints to allow the baby to fit through. If the baby’s induced before s/he is ready, there might not be enough of the hormone in your body to stretch and relax your pelvis yet, making the opening smaller.
Birth position — Being flat on your back with your bottom in the air makes the opening about 30% smaller than it otherwise would be. Side-lying or semi-sitting is better; squatting or hands-and-knees are best of all. (So if you’re struggling, get up on your hands and knees!)
Speed of birth — The longer the baby descends through the birth canal, the more it stretches. The vagina is made of many folds, and these will unfold to allow birth to occur. Rapid births may mean that the unfolding doesn’t completely occur, and leaves you more likely to tear. (Slower births also allow time for your attendant to do perineal support and massage to aid the stretching.)
Size/shape of pelvis — This you can’t really control, but the vast majority of women do have fully adequate pelvises to give birth. Typically they just need enough of that relaxin and a good birth position to be able to push a baby out.
It’s also true that bigger babies are usually stronger and more developed than smaller ones. Bigger babies can actually help you during delivery! I’ve had midwives tell me that bigger babies are actually easier to deliver! (And yes, they did deliver their own larger babies at home!)
It’s really the width of the baby’s shoulders or the head circumference that matters more than the actual weight of the baby anyway. If the baby has an unusually large head or wide shoulders, that might cause a problem. Even so, enough relaxin + optimal delivery position still usually results in a successful vaginal birth.
This past spring, I had several friends have babies. Many weighed over 9 lbs. One (tiny) mom delivered a 10 lb. 2 oz. baby at home after just 3 hours of labor! When women go into labor naturally and work with their bodies, it is completely possible to deliver a larger baby with no issues whatsoever. It’s not scary!
What do you think? Are you afraid of having a bigger baby?
Top image by aalberici69