A woman's body is amazing because it can produce a brand-new human being. Just think about it: No human in the world appeared here through any other way other than through their mother's body. It's capable of so many things, and it's been designed to give birth. During pregnancy, a woman's body provides the fetus with everything it needs. And during labor, her whole reproductive system starts working as one mechanism that pushes the baby out of the womb, into the world. Meanwhile, all other organs of the body work alongside, producing the necessary hormones and even moving a little bit to let the baby pass through the birth canal.
When it comes to the questions of labor and delivery, we usually focus on what we should do. But it's also important to understand how the baby is feeling when their mother's uterus is pushing them out and they have to squeeze through the birth canal. How do they do it? Do they feel pain? How do they breathe? And when the baby comes out, how do they feel?
Both mother and baby participate in the process of childbirth, so we should know what's happening to both of them. This is what we're going to focus on in this list.
20 To Mom: First, Your Body Needs To Prepare
Before labor even begins, many women experience Braxton Hicks contractions that, according to specialists, prepare the body for labor. They can occur a few days or even weeks before labor due to your uterus tightening and then relaxing. These contractions usually don't hurt as much as real ones, although they're still pretty uncomfortable.
Besides, as you approach the D-day, your cervix begins changing. According to Pregnancy, Birth & Baby, it softens and becomes thinner, preparing for dilation that will allow the baby to come out. Another thing you might notice, that is not uncommon right before labor, is the so-called "snow" – a pinkish plug of mucus discharged out of your nether regions.
19 To Mom: Engagement, Or Lightening
Some time before labor, your baby will start moving down your pelvis and their head will "engage", as specialists name it, or sit in a place over your cervix. It means that the baby is ready to come out and it's called engagement or lightening.
During this time, you might notice that you suddenly have more room to breathe, because your baby has come lower in your body. Besides, you'll also see that your bump has moved down a little bit. It's hard to say when it should happen. In some women, lightening occurs a few days before labor, while in others it doesn't come until labor actually begins.
18 To Baby: Once It Starts, They Can't Stop Moving
Once your baby's head is engaged and they begin moving, nothing can stop the process. During this time, your little one will be doing their best to push through. First, the baby's head will press into the birth canal and, to find the easiest way to squeeze through it, they will twist and turn (if you have a breech baby, it's going to be harder for them to find the perfect position).
As soon as your little one's head comes out, the rest should be quick and smooth. But how can this head go through down there? According to Dr. Anne Deans, a consultant in obstetrics and gynecology at Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey, England, "Because the plates of his skull aren't fixed, his skull is able to 'mould' to the shape of the birth canal as he travels through it."
17 To Baby: Continuous Or Periodic Monitoring Is Advised
Both you and your baby should be monitored during labor to ensure that you're doing fine. There are two ways it can be done. If your pregnancy isn't complicated and everything's okay with your baby, the nurse will use a small device to check your little one's heart every 15 minutes. It'll allow you to move around as much as you want.
But in case there're any concerns about you or your baby, or if you had an epidural, you'll be offered continuous fetal monitoring. It involves attaching two plastic pads to your belly, as well as a clip attached to your baby's head that will be removed right after they're born. The device will constantly show the baby's heart rate and your contractions, but it will restrict your movements more than a bit.
16 To Mom: Water Can Break At Any Moment, Before Or During
In some women, the sac of amniotic fluid containing the baby breaks just before labor begins. Specialists name it the rupture of membranes, while in the common language we call it water breaking because it's accompanied by the fluid running or gushing out of the downstairs regions. You should take notice of the water's color (it's usually yellow) and tell your doctor if it was green or red because it can signify certain problems with the baby.
It's also normal if water didn't break, but contractions already started. In this case, the nurse might want to rupture the membranes manually to facilitate your baby coming through the birth canal.
15 To Baby: Getting Less Oxygen
While your baby is still in your uterus, they will get oxygen from your blood vessels in the placenta. This is how they breathe in your belly, but the situation changes when contractions begin. The baby has to travel through the birth canal and they experience a lot of pressure in there (more on that later). Meanwhile, placenta can't do its job so well anymore, so your little one will receive slightly less oxygen.
But don't you worry about it, because Mother Nature has its way in everything. Your newborn won't have any prob from this slight lack of oxygen experienced during birth, because they have mechanisms to cope with it (more on that later, too).
14 To Mom: Part Of Your Body Changes During Labor
While your baby is making their way through the birth canal, your body is doing its best to help them. For starters, childbirth is the reason why women typically have wider hips and flatter pelvises than men. Their pelvic cavity is also wider and it plays an important role in letting the baby pass through the canal.
During labor, the muscles at the top of your uterus press down on the bottom of your fetus, pushing them out. Due to it, the baby's head presses on your cervix, which causes contractions. Meanwhile, the bones and ligaments of your pelvis move or stretch to let the baby pass. Thus, multiple mechanisms in your body work altogether to allow the wonder of new life to happen!
13 To Baby: Sleep During Contractions
Most certainly, you won't be able to get any sleep during contractions, but – surprise!– your baby can! According to Dru Campbell, a senior midwife at Health Bay Polyclinic in Dubai, "Babies can actually have sleep patterns during contractions."
It's completely normal if a baby takes a nap during labor, especially if the process takes a long time. What's more, it's possible if your little one sleeps through most of the labor time (on average, it can be as many as 50 minutes out of every hour). Partly, the baby falls asleep due to the intensity of the pressure in the birth canal and, in some way, it's also a mechanism to cope with the lack of oxygen.
12 To Mom: Multiple Hormones Take Part In The Process
There are quite a few hormones that help us give birth to these tiny little angels. For example, due to the increased production of prostaglandin, the cervix opens up. It also makes the body more receptive to oxytocin, another important hormone that causes contractions both during labor and, after it, to deliver placenta. Relaxin helps the water break, softens and stretches the cervix, and makes ligaments in the pelvis stretch, too. Prolactin launches the production of breastmilk and its production increases due to skin-to-skin contact with your newborn.
And there're also beta-endorphins that provide pain relief (that's right, you have a natural one, apart from an epidural).
11 To Mom: Sometimes Synthetic Hormones Are Required
However, hormone production isn't successful in 100% of cases and sometimes a woman might need extra help. In this case, the medical team will provide her with synthetic hormones.
For example, if a woman requires labor induction, the doctor might suggest giving her synthetic prostaglandin to soften her cervix and make contractions begin. Normally, this hormone is inserted into the downstairs region. Another synthetic hormone you might need is oxytocin. It's offered from a drip to boost the contractions.
Keep in mind that in case these hormones are administered to you, you can experience more painful contractions. So ensure to learn all the risks and benefits before agreeing to the procedure.
10 To Baby: Feeling Mommy's Emotions
It's a proven fact that a fetus feels the emotions of their mom and can react to them while still in the womb. It happens during pregnancy, as well as during childbirth. For this reason, it's recommended to avoid excessive stress, so that your baby wouldn't be affected. Of course, it's easier said than done when you're in so much pain, giving birth to your child.
But don't worry too much about it. Labor is a stressful event, obviously, but it's mostly what they call "good stress." Just watch for it not to get over the top and ask for doctor's help, if needed.
9 To Mom: However Long The Labor Is, You Won't Get Hungry
Some women, who have never given birth before, worry that if their labor is too long, they will be hungry as hell. However, expecting moms shouldn't worry about it, because the hurricane of hormones will suspend the function of eating for the time being and the feeling of hunger won't appear.
Progesterone is the hormone responsible for suppressing the desire for food. Dr. Stephanie Romero, an ob/gyn and assistant professor at the University of South Florida says that its production forces the digestive system to shut down when a woman is in labor. "Your digestive system goes crazy," she explains. "You just don’t get hungry."
8 To Baby: According To Doctors, The Experience Is Painful
Many people, both medical specialists and others, have questioned whether a baby is in pain during labor. But to this day, doctors still can't give a definitive answer. Christopher E. Colby, MD, director of the neonatology fellowship program at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, says, "If you performed a medical procedure on a baby shortly after birth, she would certainly feel pain. So it may be that a baby does feel pain while she's going through the birth canal — but no one knows for sure."
Richard Auerbach, MD, neonatologist at the Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital, in Hollywood, Florida, agrees that "it's hard to say what a baby senses." He adds, "It's possible that the baby's pain may be what it feels like to squeeze through a tight space."
7 To Mom: You Become Extremely Alert
The hormone overload in your body does one more thing that you're not even aware of.
Have you ever wanted to know why a woman can be in labor for 10 or 20 hours straight and not fall asleep? The truth is, it's due to a group of hormones called catecholamines that trigger the "fight or flight" response and make you extremely alert. Dr. Stephanie Romero explains, "Fight or flight keep you awake and gives you the power to keep pushing. No matter what time of day someone is in labor—whether it’s 1:00 AM or 1:00 PM—they are wide awake and in the moment."
6 To Baby: Heat Production Is Increasing
When your baby is in the womb, they live in the environment with a 98.6-degree temperature. Feeling so warm and cozy in there, how do they adjust to the significantly lower temperature in the delivery room?
It turns out that the thyroid gland plays a large role in it. Dr. Richard Auerbach says that the baby's thyroid levels are extremely high during labor. It is caused by two things – increased adrenaline and exposure to cold. This surge also causes "heat production from a type of fat called 'brown' fat" and it's essential in helping the baby regulate their body temperature when they come out of the womb.
5 To Mom: Zero Control Waist Down In Case Of Epidural
A lot of women choose to get an epidural during labor because their pain is too strong for them to handle. However, there are quite a few drawbacks to medicated birth that should be considered before a woman chooses an injection.
First of all, due to getting an epidural you won't feel anything from the waist down. A mom from The Bump shares her experience with it, "After I got my epidural, I had zero control from the waist down, so two nurses were trying to help me roll over to my other side to help speed things along." It's also a known fact that the shot can make labor longer, because, as per Fit Pregnancy, "it's hard to push effectively when you can't feel contractions."
So be prepared for it, if you plan to get an epidural.
4 To Baby: Epidural Vs. Unmedicated Birth
While considering an epidural, you should think not only about yourself but also about your baby. While they're still in your body, your little one will be affected by everything you do. So anything that passes through your body (including an injection of pain relief) will inevitably pass through your baby's body, as well.
It means that if you get an epidural, your baby will get it, too, and it's still unclear how exactly it affects them. Specialists say that contemporary meds used to relieve pain in a delivery room don't have any long-term effect on the baby, but it's still probable that painkillers can make the newborn more inert and sleepy.
3 To Baby: Feeling All The Pressure
While your baby is moving through the birth canal, they feel enormous pressure. It may sound like the little one will be in pain, but this pressure actually does a very good thing for them as it's "helpful in preparing him to live outside the uterus," according to Dr. Anne Deans. "The compression expels fluid and mucus from his lungs," she explains, "and also prevents him from breathing and inhaling fluid and blood as he passes through the birth canal. This all helps to prepare him to take his first breath."
Since a baby's born through C-section doesn't feel this pressure, their breath will be faster and shallower in the beginning. But the good news is that this problem usually resolves within a couple of days.
2 To Mom: The Disappearance (And Reappearance) Of Cervix
Women's reproductive system is amazing. Not only is the uterus so strong that it pushes the baby out of the body, but the cervix also makes wonders. According to Dr. Romero, "[The uterus] squeezes the baby and the baby has nowhere to go but out. Then the baby's head pushes against the cervix, forcing it to disintegrate and open."
Once it's completely dilated, the cervix "disappears"! "It's not even there anymore," Dr. Romero says. "There's no other body part that does this disappearing and reappearing act like the cervix does during labor and delivery." And after the baby's born, the cervix eventually bounces back to its original shape.
1 To Baby: The First Look At The World
When the baby is born, the outside environment can be a change for them. This is one of the reasons why a number of women prefer home birth. At home, they can provide the baby with more comfortable conditions. According to Dr. Dru Campbell, "Research has shown that babies born into calm, dimly lit, environments are calmer than babies born into bright, cold labor rooms."
But if you deliver in the hospital, you can still provide your baby with the comfort they need. Just have skin-to-skin contact with them as soon as they're born, to calm them down, help regulate their heart rate, keep them warm, and decrease their discomfort while seeing the world for the first time.
Sources: Pregnancy, Birth & Baby, Parents, The National, NHS, Splinter News, The Bump, Fit Pregnancy.