What The Movies Don't Tell You About Childbirth

by Lily Feinn

When approaching the nine month mark, most moms-to-be can't wait to give birth and finally meet their baby. But there is a lot that can happen in the few short (or incredibly long) hours between the first contraction and the baby emerging. While the details of childbirth are not the most appetizing (you may want to put down that sandwich), it's important to know what to expect. Some seemingly strange things may occur that are totally normal. Childbirth is an amazing feat of nature, but what a woman goes through during labor is rarely depicted outside a classroom. Unlike what Hollywood movies show, it takes a bit more than a grunt and one good push to bring new life into this world. There are no jump cuts in real life — but that's what epidurals are for!

To combat the void of material in mainstream movies, many motherhood blogs and forums have stepped up to talk about their individual experiences in the delivery room. If you are thinking about having a baby, expecting, or just curious, reading through these facts can be helpful. Here are a few things that you might not expect when you're expecting:

1. Lots Of Liquid Comes Out

The fetus develops in a bag of fluid inside the womb made from two membranes called the amniotic sac. The clear fluid inside protects and cushions the baby, and the fetus is able to breath and "drink" it. When the sac ruptures before birth, the liquid does not always drain out in a Hollywood-style, drench-your-clothes gush. Between 600 and 800 milliliters (approximately two and a half to three cups) of amniotic fluid must come out, but it can slowly trickle out over time as well. Many movies show the water breaking before contractions start. In reality, only 20 percent have the amniotic sac rupture followed by contractions, and for some labor may not even begin for a day or so after the water breaking. For 80 percent of pregnant women, the labor contractions begin before the water breaks.

2. Uncontrollable Shaking During Labor

During labor women may experience uncontrollable shaking or shivering as they approach full dilation, which can last for an hour after delivery. Some assume that the shaking is a reaction to the epidural medication or spinal block, but you can actually thank the rush of intense hormones for this unpleasant side effect. The labor shakes are natural and can happen to anyone, whether they are having a drug-free labor or during Cesarian section. You can try wrapping blankets to relax the muscles, but these teeth-chattering shakes are not due to being cold in the delivery room. "Hormone shifts, adrenaline response and temperature," is to blame Desiree Bley, MD, OB-GYN told Fit Pregnancy. Thankfully, once the baby is in the mother's arms, these discomforts turn to distant memories.

3. Urinating And Defecting On The Delivering Table

As you probably guessed, this very common occurrence has never been mentioned on the silver screen — not even in a Judd Apatow movie (though the unedited version of Knocked Up at least showed the baby's head crowning). Many women "unload" when told to push, especially if they have had an epidural. The anesthetic makes you numb and you may feel pressure, but not what's exactly happening below. If you are told to push, you may push out quite a lot more, and though it may seem embarrassing to think about — during labor most women don't notice or care, and the medical professionals clean it up immediately and with minimal fuss.

4. Vomiting

It's common for a woman in labor to be nauseous, after all the body is going through extreme upheaval. But I don't believe any film shows the mom-to-be reaching for a bucket as they reach the difficult "transition" phase of labor. During this phase, the contractions are coming close together, and throwing up is fairly likely. Maybe too messy for Hollywood?

5. Delivering The Afterbirth

While delivering the baby safely is the main event, there is a third stage of labor between when the baby comes out and before expulsion of the afterbirth. Sadly, no movie has ever stuck around to film this part of the delivery process. The placenta organ is delivered through the birth canal 15 to 30 minutes after the baby has exited... and yes, some people do choose to save the placenta and eat it, which is called placentophagy.

6. Losing The Mucus Plug

Like a cork in a wine bottle, all women develop a gelatinous plug that seals the cervix opening during pregnancy. This plug protects the fetus from any bacterial contamination and infection. When the cervix softens preparing for childbirth — you guessed it, the plug comes out. It may come out little by little or all at once, but either way, it's not the most pleasant thing to look at.

7. Tearing

Many people don't talk about this normal part of many first vaginal births, but it can make healing processes a pain. According to the Parents website, some 95 percent of women giving birth for the first time will have some form of tearing. The tearing is caused by the head of the baby (about the size of a cantaloupe) putting pressure on the bottom of the vagina. The tear happens in the area between the vagina and rectum, known as the perineum. Often doctors will make a surgical cut in this area before delivery, called an episiotomy, to enlarge the opening and reduce tearing.

8. The Baby's Head May Look A Bit... Strange

Babies in movies don't usually come out looking like little aliens — unless you are watching the film Aliens. But don't be worried if the baby's head comes out looking pointed. A newborn's head is soft and malleable, so squeezing through the birth canal can give it a rather unusual look. But never fear finding the right hat, because the head will return to normal usually within a week.

9. Prolonged Labor

Labor can take a really long time in some cases. For first-time mothers, labor is considered prolonged after 20 hours or more. If this happens in the first of labor it can be emotionally and physically exhausting, but not dangerous. If the active phase of labor fails to progress, it can be troublesome. In movies there's usually a lot of screaming and crying, but that is not the case with all labors in real life, especially if they last almost a full day.

10. Pushing Can Give You A Black Eye

In the movies, women usually look pretty normal after giving birth (perhaps a little sweaty), but all that pushing can take a toll. After delivery it is common to look swollen in the face, legs, and arms. This puffiness, known as edema, goes away fairly quickly. If you push hard enough you may also burst blood vessels in and around your eyes. This results in facial bruising and bloodshot eyes. You don't usually see a glowing new mom with bright red eyes in film, but in real life, things are a bit more complicated.

Image: pixabay (1, 2, 8, 9, 10), giphy (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)