Editor’s note: This post is not intended as medical advice. Always consult a medical professional or physician before treatment of any kind.
Almost a year ago, on a warm summer day in June, my water broke at home. Just over 24 hours later, my daughter was born — and my life, as I knew it, was changed forever.
Before my daughter was born, my husband and I took a childbirth class, went to several group appointments, and asked approximately 10,000 questions. We tried not to Google strange pregnancy symptoms (because let’s be real, no good ever comes from that), and we felt pretty prepared once we arrived at the hospital.
As it turned out, there were about a bajillion things that came up on the actual day-of that I was completely and utterly unprepared for — both good, and not-so-good. But I’ll give you the short list. Here are the top 10 things I wish I’d known back when I was pregnant:
1. You can lose up to 12 lbs. during the delivery alone — and lots more in the days that follow.
All told, I gained a whopping 62 lbs. when I was pregnant. I am a pretty average-sized person in real life, and had no prior experience with rapid weight gain (or loss, for that matter), so gaining 62 lbs. in nine months was … definitely an experience. In our childbirth class, we did a project about how the “average pregnant woman” (who doesn’t really exist, let’s be honest) gains about 30 lbs. during the course of her pregnancy, and it’s distributed between the weight of the baby, the extra blood your body produces, other fluids, and the lovely euphemism “maternal stores” (aka “fat”).
To say that gaining more than double the “average” amount made me anxious would be putting it mildly. But most women lose up to 12 lbs. during the delivery, and shed even more in the coming days and weeks, without doing anything special. In fact, 10 days postpartum, I weighed myself and found that I’d lost 31 pounds already! If someone told me ahead of time that I’d lose that weight, and I’d lose it so quickly, I wouldn’t have worried so much about it.
2. Your appetite after pregnancy is nothing like your appetite during pregnancy.
Toward the end of my pregnancy, I was starving all the time. I could eat full restaurant-sized portions of everything, which amused my husband, since he’d never seen me finish anything I ordered in the past. Also, I had a rampant sweet tooth. In real life, I prefer salty snacks to sweet. But in pregnancy? I wanted a sweet treat after every meal.
I was eating like a teenager, and I knew if my appetite stayed the same after I had my daughter, I was going to have a very hard time ever wearing my old clothes again.
But a switch flipped immediately after I delivered: I was instantly back to my old appetite. In fact, I couldn’t even finish the meal they brought me in the hospital room (you know, the one that’s supposed to be the best meal of your life?).
So, friends, if you’re still pregnant, follow your cravings now. They’ll most likely go away right after you hold your baby.
3. You cannot actually prepare for the pain of labor.
Maybe the reason nobody tells you about the honest-to-goodness awful experience of giving birth is because no matter what someone says, you will not be prepared for the pain. (Sorry.)
I could tell you that contractions feel like there’s a blood pressure cuff inside you that somehow went haywire and squeezed for just long enough to make you think you’re not going to make it, only to have the contraction end and allow you to take a breath again. I could tell you that the pain is different during the contraction stage and the pushing stage, and that the contractions are probably worse. But until you go through it yourself, you’ll have a hard time believing me. And by then, it’ll be too late.
5. There are serious differences between the contraction stage and the pushing stage.
I might be the only one who got through nine months of prenatal appointments and a “how to birth a baby” class without realizing that once you’re in the pushing stage, everything is different.
But here’s the thing: The classes often focus on early labor (answering the question, “How will I know when I’m in labor?”) and contractions (don’t brace against them, let them tear through you), with a little bit of talk about transition (which is the point in which your baby finds an even more uncomfortable spot in your body).
I had thought that once I was in transition, I was minutes away from having a baby on my chest. But nope! Pushing is a stage that I was told, “typically takes about two hours” (which you should never tell someone, because if they take longer than is typical, they’ll start to panic!). You’re also not supposed to breathe through contractions anymore. Instead, you hold your breath through them, and focus all your strength in getting that baby out of your body. You breathe when you’re not contracting.
6. You’re actually supposed to poop the baby out.
Oh, and speaking of the pushing stage, if you’re anything like me, you’ll have to spend the first 45 minutes of that stage figuring out what exactly they want you to do. “Push down toward the floor,” I was told. “Take 10 seconds and push, then do it again two more times. Try to take three breaths during this contraction.”
I wasn’t able to figure it out until the nurse finally asked me, “Does it feel like you have to poop? Use those muscles to push the baby out. Try to poop.”
That was gross, sure, but at that point, I was beyond caring about whether I was actually pooping. All I wanted was to be done and to get to the next part where I would get to meet this little one, before I lost all my energy.
So remember, when you get to the pushing stage, just try to poop. You’ll save yourself a lot of time. And pay better attention in birth class! I’m sure it’s covered.
7. You will lose any inhibitions you had when you walked in.
I’m a modest person by nature, and often get teased by friends about being prudish for various things. When we were in triage, I even asked the nurse to leave the room while I went to the bathroom because, even though there was a door, I knew that sound carried through and I didn’t want her to hear me pee.
That prudish modesty lasted until the pain washed over me, then it was gone. I stopped caring about who saw which part of me. It didn’t matter that there were people in the room staring at my crotch. It didn’t even matter that perfect strangers were getting handsy. I simply didn’t care.
The complete lack of inhibition stayed with me throughout my hospital stay. “Come in,” I’d answer when I heard a knock at my door, even if I had an exposed breast. The nurses and lactation consultants would ask if they could touch my breast to help with breastfeeding. “Sure!” was my response, every single time.
8. Breastfeeding your new baby is hard – even if you’ve done it before
Speaking of nursing, holy cow is it challenging. All I’d heard about breastfeeding while I was pregnant made it sound like a piece of cake. I kept hearing how “the breast is best,” and honestly, I didn’t need much convincing other than hearing it burned calories before I made my decision to breastfeed.
But once my daughter was born, I suddenly realized why there was so much emphasis on the benefits.
Breastfeeding is HARD, even if you’ve done it before. Your baby doesn’t really know what to do, and you don’t have milk yet, so when she’s hungry, what you’re able to give her isn’t always enough to satisfy her. So she’ll get mad. Plus, your breasts aren’t at all used to the kind of abuse a tiny human can inflict upon them, and you don’t know how to make her stop crying because you just met her — and you don’t know anything about her. All you know is that you’re letting her down.
When my milk finally came in, I wound up with two rock-hard breasts that didn’t do anything but frustrate my daughter even more. Engorgement and latching aren’t exactly compadres. And dealing with those kind of issues for five days can feels like five weeks. But if you persevere, you’ll figure it out. After all, you have a lot of time to get it right.
9. Night Two in the hospital will make you question whether you’re fit to be a parent after all.
My daughter was born around 8 PM, so she was exhausted that first night. And man, so was I. She slept for long stretches at a time and seemed happy with the comfort I gave her when she got upset. The three of us (my husband was in a chair in the corner of the room) had many stretches of sleep throughout the night and into the next day.
Then, night two came around, and all bets were off. I took the opportunity to walk the halls with my daughter, who was inconsolable. When she saw my haggard look, one of the nurses in the nurse station (not one I knew) asked, “Is this your second night?” which made me realize that I was not, in fact, alone. Why didn’t anyone tell me that night two would have me rethinking this whole idea that I was someone who could effectively parent an infant?
10. You’ll be afraid to use the call button to ask nurses questions — but don’t be.
I’m not the kind of person who likes to be a bother, so when they told me that a nurse was only a button push away, I thought, that’s fine, but I won’t be using that.
Then night two happened, and I was desperate. So I clicked and clicked and clicked that button. I asked for nursing help, and my savior came in the form of the nurse who was assigned to my room. I was sore, my daughter wouldn’t stop crying, and I had no idea what to do or how to provide for her. So I asked for help. And, to my surprise (and joy), the nurse helped without judgment. She answered all my questions, showed me how to make it work, and helped me realize that I can, in fact, be responsible for this tiny person.
She did such a great job that on night three, she checked in on us in the middle of the night and had to wake me up to take vitals.
“Are you sure you’re the same family who was up all night last night?” she asked. “I’m glad you’re able to figure it all out by now!”
In a nutshell? None of this is easy. But you will figure it out. And you’ll be better off knowing the things I didn’t know before I went in. The hospital stories I used to hear always glossed over the hard bits and ended with with a cheerful, “But of course, it was all worth it in the end.”
And while yes, it absolutely is all worth it in the end, I’d like to think that knowing the truth about what happens in between — the good, the bad, and the weird — will put any mama’s mind at ease.