If you’re a first-time mom wondering what to expect during labor and delivery at the hospital, this post is for you! This mama of three reveals everything they won’t tell you so you won’t be surprised during childbirth!
When I was pregnant with my first baby, I read a lot of books and articles about labor and delivery. I thought I was 100% ready for childbirth and that nothing was going to surprise me. Oh boy, was I wrong! I wish I had read more about what to expect during labor and delivery, because there were a lot of things that nobody had told me about that really caught me off guard!
I thought about things that I wasn’t expecting, and I asked all of my mama friends what things surprised them that they wished they had known about, and I have come up with this big list of what to expect during labor and delivery. This is a great post to read if you’re a first-time mom delivering at the hospital and you have no idea what to expect. This is basically what I would (and did!) tell my sister when she had her first baby!
What to Expect During Labor and Delivery
The mucus plug
Before you go into labor, you lose your mucus plug. It’s basically like a giant booger in your underpants, and it’s gross. It’s a blob of mucus that has been in your cervix to block bacteria from getting in. It’s not a great sign that labor is starting because it can “grow back,” and you may lose it two or three times. But it is a sign that you’re getting close!
The bloody show
The mucus plug is NOT to be confused with the bloody show. THEY ARE DIFFERENT! The bloody show is a better sign that labor is coming, because it means that your cervix is “ripening,” getting ready for childbirth. It shouldn’t be a ton of blood, and you might miss it if you go to the bathroom at night, and it usually happens after you lose your mucus plug.
It’s gross, but as your body gets ready for labor, you may get diarrhea, or at least runny poops. As your uterus starts contracting (even if you can’t feel it yet), it irritates your bowel, which makes you poop a lot. So get ready.
Your water doesn’t always break on its own. I know in movies and on TV they always show pregnant women out in public and all of a sudden their water breaks and completely gushes all over and they’re like “time to go to the hospital!” all happy and cheery. Nope. That’s a pretty rare occurrence.
And when it does break, it is WEIRD. It feels like you’re just peeing a ton and it’s all warm and weird, and with each contraction a little more comes out.
Also, if there’s “meconium” in your fluid, that means that your baby has pooped inside and the NICU team will probably have to be there at the delivery to make sure your baby is okay after they’re born.
Depending on the hospital you go to, you might have to go to a triage before getting admitted. The hospital I went to with my third baby, I had to go into a triage and get checked there before I was admitted. They were slow and took their sweet time, and I had to be 5cm dilated before they admitted me. The hospital I went to with my first two babies, I was immediately put into a private room where I was monitored.
Several times throughout labor you’ll have to get checked. It’s the same thing as at your OB appointments toward the end of pregnancy where they have you lay down with your knees bent and laying out to the side and they check to see how far dilated and effaced you are. It’s uncomfortable. And it’s even worse when you’re in labor. Just be ready for it.
The way they monitor your baby and your contractions during labor is with two big circle things strapped to your belly. They move around a lot and in my experience, have to be adjusted pretty often. They make it hard to get comfortable, and you obviously can’t get out of bed when they are on.
You can ask to be monitored intermittently, which is what I did with my third labor so I could walk around and help things progress. I just came back to the room every 30 or 45 minutes and they put the monitors on and made sure everything was still good. I much preferred this, but everyone is different!
I was induced with my first and second babies, and both experiences were good for me. However, getting induced can prolong labor, and it can make your contractions even more painful. I know it’s hard to wait until you go into labor naturally, but having been induced and having gone into labor on my own, I recommend trying to wait until your body goes into labor on its own (unless you have a medical reason for getting induced!).
Labor takes a long time
I guess in some situations it can go pretty fast, but in most cases (and especially for first-time moms), it takes a long time. There’s a lot of waiting during labor, and it can be boring. Make sure you have something to do, like a book, a game on your phone, or a movie on your laptop. It can help pass the time and it helps when you’re trying to relax so your body will do its part.
You might throw up during labor. Sometimes it’s because of the pain, and sometimes it’s because of pain medication. But just be warned that it can happen.
It is dang hard to sit still for that epidural. You can’t get it until you are dilated past a certain point because it can slow labor down, and usually when you are that far along it’s already pretty painful. And then the anesthesiologist comes in and is like “sit on the edge of the bed and curl your back and don’t move” and you’re like “are you kidding me?” You have to sit there for a while and you’ll probably have a few contractions during the process, and it’s hard to sit still. It’s a little scary, but once you have it in and the medicine is going, it’s magic.
You should also know that if you do get an epidural, you have to get a catheter (basically a tube that continuously drains your bladder) and that feels really uncomfortable when it goes in.
Once you do get the epidural, you will probably have to switch sides and move positions a few times in order for it to balance out and spread evenly on both sides of your body. You’ll need help to do this because your epidural will pretty much make it impossible to move from the waist down.
You might also experience shaking and chills when you get an epidural. My doctor husband told me that this is because the epidural medicine is cold, so when it goes in your body it feels cold and makes you feel cold.
One of my mama friends also told me that you can ask for a partial epidural instead of the full dosage, which if you want to be able to feel a little bit, might be a good option for you.
You can’t eat during labor
Both of the hospitals that my babies were born at didn’t allow women to eat during labor. The only thing they allowed was clear liquids (Sprite, water) and ice chips. I have heard that some hospitals don’t even allow that. And since labor takes a long time, you should probably grab a bite to eat before heading to the hospital, and prepare to be starving after your baby is born.
She will be in and out of your room while you’re there. You’ll probably get a little button you can push to request her to come in. Nurses also change every 12 hours (in my experience), so you might not have the same nurse at delivery as you do when you get checked in.
You might poop
I know this sounds absolutely horrible and so incredibly embarrassing, but it’s actually quite common. I wasn’t able to find a statistic on it, but it happens all the time. Your doctor will have seen it, your nurses will have seen it, and it’s really not a big deal.
I made my husband promise me that he would never tell me if I pooped during labor, and to this day I have no idea. But because your contractions stimulate your bowels, and you use the same muscles to poop as you do to push your baby out, it might happen.
There will be lots of people in the room
One thing that completely caught me off guard with my first baby’s delivery was how many people were in the room when it was go time.
Besides the nurse (probably more than one) and the doctor, there were also medical students, nursing students, and the NICU team. Plus my husband was there. If you have any other family that you want there, they’ll be there, too. It can get crowded real quick. And yes, you are allowed to request no students be in the room if you really care (but speaking as the wife of a doctor, that’s how they learn!).
By the end of labor, you have zero modesty
With everything that goes on (lifting up your gown to fix the monitors, lifting up your gown to get checked, and pushing your baby out) during labor and childbirth, you’ll have zero modesty by the end of it. You probably won’t care about nursing your baby with the nurses and doctors in the room, and you certainly will get used to having people inspect your lady parts. I’m a pretty modest person and I don’t even like nursing in public, but during childbirth, that’s all thrown out the window.
Things don’t always go according to plan
I had a formal, written birth plan with my first baby, and with my second and third babies, I just had an idea in my head of what I wanted my birth to be like. While I do think it’s important to prepare as much as you can and know what kind of childbirth experience you would like, it’s also important to remember that things don’t always go according to plan. Your birth plan may have to be thrown out, so don’t get 100% attached to it.
The #1 most important thing during childbirth is a healthy baby and a healthy mom. That might mean that you have to get an emergency C-section or that even though you wanted to go natural, you end up getting induced and getting an epidural. That’s totally okay. There’s no wrong way to have a baby (whether that’s in the hospital with an epidural or at home in the water with a midwife). Mentally prepare yourself for things not going according to plan.
Along those lines, one of my mama friends recommended learning about natural labor techniques to manage the pain even if you’re planning on getting an epidural, because sometimes you don’t have time to get one and you have to go without!
Stand up for yourself
I love listening to pregnancy and birth podcasts and one thing that I have heard several times is that moms wish they had stood up for themselves during labor. You might have an amazing doctor and amazing nurses who take great care of you and listen to your requests, but you also might end up with the doctor on call who you have never met and who just wants to go home.
There are good and bad doctors and nurses, just like in every profession. If you feel like you aren’t being treated well, stand up for yourself. If your nurse is mega grumpy and rude to you, ask for a different one. Stand up for yourself. You want your baby’s birth to be a good experience!
Don’t expect to push through two or three contractions and suddenly have your baby. Most women have to push for a long time before their babies are born. Don’t push until your body is ready (you’ll feel like you need to poop because of the pressure of your baby’s head).
The best advice I can give you is to push like you’re trying to poop. Yes, you might poop, but like I said, it’s not a big deal and that’s common. I have pushed out three babies and every time I’ve pushed using my lower ab muscles like I’m pooping and it has worked great for me.
The ring of fire
Ever hear someone talk about the ring of fire? The ring of fire is when your muscles and skin around your lady parts are stretching as far as they can as your baby’s head comes out. It’s also called crowning. I haven’t felt it since I’ve had epidurals all three times, but I’ve heard it’s incredibly painful and that even with an epidural, you can still feel it sometimes.
If you’re planning on writing down your baby’s birth story, take notes. Write down when you start feeling contractions, your emotions, your nurses’ names, when you get checked and how far you are, and anything else you can think of. Labor can be such a blur and at least for me, I can’t remember the little details if I don’t take notes.
Delivering the placenta
It might seem super obvious to some people but I completely forgot about delivering the placenta when my first baby was born. After your baby is born, you have to push again and deliver the placenta. It might be easy, it might be hard.
After my first baby it was easy, but after my second baby, the placenta broke inside of my uterus and the doctor had to scrape it out and push on my stomach to help free it up. That was very painful, even with the epidural I’d had. Hopefully it’s easy for you, but just know that you still have a little work to do after your baby comes out.
If you tear at all (I have with all three babies), you’ll probably have to get a few stitches. The doctor will do it right after your baby and placenta are delivered, and the most I’ve ever felt is a little tugging while they did it. Depending on if you get an epidural or not, you might feel more or less.
Meeting your baby
Let your doctor and nurse know if you want to immediately hold your baby and delay weighing and cleaning. If your baby is healthy and there aren’t any concerns, they should let you do skin-to-skin immediately. I wasn’t able to do this with my first baby because there was meconium in my amniotic fluid and they had to make sure he hadn’t ingested it, but I did with my second and third babies and it was magic.
Let them know what you want to do, and don’t be too upset if you can’t immediately hold your baby. Remember, a healthy baby (and healthy mama!) is the most important thing.
Going to the bathroom the first time
When you’re all done and ready to change and get a little cleaned up, your sweet, sweet nurse will help you into the bathroom and she will show you how to take care of yourself postpartum. She’ll help you get some of those nice mesh cotton undies on and help you get the big maxi pads in there. She’ll show you how to gently rinse off after you go to the bathroom and how to use dermoplast spray to help ease the pain. Don’t be shy and let her help you. You’ll feel super awkward, but you need their help, and after you’ll feel so grateful!
Peeing after the catheter
If you got an epidural and had to have a catheter, be warned that peeing after it comes out is hard at first.
It’s also hard to poop postpartum. Make sure you take those laxatives they give you, drink lots of water, and just relax. Try not to push very much.
You’re basically going to have a heavy period for a week or two, and then lighter bleeding for 2-4 more weeks. Your doctor will tell you 4-6 weeks, but my last one was closer to 7 weeks before I stopped bleeding. DO NOT use a tampon, and just change those maxi pads often.
One of the weirdest things after my first was born was how squishy and jello-y my belly was after he was born. It was super weird.
You may not want to shower or get dressed in the hospital
I brought my own clothes and shower stuff to the hospital with all three of my children’s births, but I have not used them once. And that’s totally okay if that’s you.
You may just want to stay in hospital gowns the whole time you’re there and wait to shower until you get home. You also might want to wear your own clothes. Either way, it’s okay. Don’t feel a ton of pressure to look your best. You just had a baby!
Whether or not you choose to breastfeed, your breasts are going to hurt for a few days as your supply either adjust or dries up. One of my mama friends told me that having cabbage in your fridge to put on your boobs can really help with engorgement!
Having a baby is absolutely crazy. Our bodies are amazing and it’s wild that they can grow a human baby and then push it out and we can get up and walk around so soon after. Hopefully this post was helpful and now you know a little more what to expect during labor and delivery at the hospital! Good luck, mamas!
This post was originally published October 11, 2017.
This is very helpful dear. Thank you so much ❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤
Chelsea Johnson says
You’re so welcome!
Catherine Tanner says
I just found out I am pregnant with my first child and cannot tell you how informative this was! I’m nervous and definitely want a good experience and you really gave a great list of things I need to keep in mind when choosin my doctor. Thank you!
Chelsea Johnson says
Congratulations, Catherine! How exciting! Might I suggest my guide to pregnancy, Preggers!? It’s PERFECT for first-time mamas!
I love this post! I’m about to have my daughter next week, most likely getting induced. The only thing I have not read about (my mom told me) was apparently they shave you all up and drench your vag with iodine stuff before delivery? And do hospitals send you home with a sitz (sp?) bath?
Chelsea Johnson says
None of that happened to me for any of my three babies, and I haven’t ever heard that before. That may have been something they did a long time ago, but I don’t think that’s common practice anymore!
This was really, truly a helpful article. My son was born in August 2018, and my type A personality was doing all the research I could so that I knew what was going to happen during labor and delivery. I read a bunch of articles and this one was the most thorough, and now that I’ve actually gone through labor, I can say it was the most accurate as well. Thank you for writing an article that doesn’t make labor out to be a nightmare. Thank you for helping to ease some of my anxieties so that I could walk confidently into the hospital and deliver a beautiful baby boy.
Chelsea Johnson says
THANK YOU! And you’re welcome! And congratulations! I’m so glad that you had a good delivery!!
Interesting how different things are at different places!
I was checked in triage but not checked again until I said I needed to push and they just confirmed I was fully dilated.
I was also allowed to eat with my last one… But didn’t really want to.
My nurse just checked baby’s heart rate with a portable Doppler after a contraction every 15 minutes or so instead of being strapped to a monitor. It was great because she could do it anywhere, even in the tub!
I’m located in Canada 🙂
Chelsea Johnson says
That sounds so nice! I definitely think if I have another baby I should have it in Canada 🙂
Ill be 32 weeks tomorrow and this is baby number 6 for me and my husband. I have to say that you took that hammer and hit it right on the nail with that article. Every single one of my experiences have been different. With my last two babies I was pretty much having them when I got to the hospital. I was 8 1/2 cm with my 2yo and 9 1/2 cm with my 1yo. With the one year old I wasn’t able to do skin to skin right away he had to do it with my husband because I was bleeding so much and they want to get it to stop b4 I had to have to transfusion. Thank God it stopped after they insert something into my anus to help it stop because I was scared and thought I was dying because I was shivering so bad and I couldn’t speak(Another reason I couldn’t hold him)All of this happened because I was having issues with blood clots in my pregnancy and had to go on lovenox to thin my blood. I was supposed to be taken off lovenox at 38 weeks but I delivered at 37 and 4 days. I also asked that they deliver my placenta while the umbilical cord was still attached to my son so that he could get all of that good stuff left in it. I was thankful to come out of that ordeal healthy and thankful baby was healthy too! Now my 1yo is extremely attached to his dad and I always tell my husband that it is because he did skin to skin with him first and since that moment he has literally been attached to my husband at the hip he has a tantrum when it’s time for Daddy to go to work or leave the house period. I don’t get that reaction lol but I’m okay with it I have 4 other love bugs that are attached to me. Sign a mother of 1 Girl and 4 about to be 5 boys
Chelsea Johnson says
Thank you for sharing your story, Donisha! That’s crazy!
Sarah Jones says
I am a first-time mom and I was wondering what would I do during my labour and delivery. Then I read your blog & whattoexpect and collected useful information from it. It helped me to distinguish between the mucus plug and bloody show. I could also see signs for diarrhea which can help me know that I might be ready for labour. It also helped me in knowing that delivery shown in movies and tv are far more different from reality. Also, I packed books for reading if the labour takes longer time. I was mentally prepared that things might not go according to my plans. I have become more confident to handle labour and delivery strongly.
Chelsea Johnson says
Yes! You’ve definitely got this, Sarah! I’m glad I could help! Thanks for sharing!
YES Definitely.. you are the first post I’ve read that has actually said pain with placenta.. with my first I didn’t even feel a thing.. but with my second I had placenta accrdia (sorry if I misspelled that ) and the placenta wouldn’t detach .. the doctor tried for over 20 minutes and even eight a epidural it hurt SOO bad. So a week later I started having chills and fever and felt awful I thought it may be due to getting the pneumonia shot before I left the hospital ( I get that way with those shots for some reason) and a couple of hours later started hurting really bad like contractions I felt something move through my body and told my husband something is wrong we went to the ER and apparently they don’t get ALOT of it and my body was getting ready for labor again a couple of hours later and I finally passed all the placenta .. won’t go in to detail but I’m about positive I could give birth without a epidural next time haha
Chelsea Johnson says
Oh my heavens, I’m so sorry! That sounds miserable! I’m sorry you had to go through that!
I am currently 18 weeks pregnant with my first baby and stumbled on your post via Pinterest and am so glad I did! The further I got through reading it the calmer I started to feel about the whole labour process so thank you ! You have made this anxious mum-to-be a little less anxious 🙂
Chelsea Johnson says
Good! I’m so glad I could help! Congratulations, and you’ve totally got this!
I’m still at the hospital, first full day postpartum after delivering my second child. I would have to say that all of this is 100% spot on. I would add 2 things:
1) Epidurals don’t always work the same from birth to birth. During my first birth, I felt nothing. People had to tell me when to push and move my legs for me. During my second birth, the epidural didn’t work the same and I felt a lot of pain even though my vagina area was still numb. I could also easily move my legs and such. It was definitely more intense!
2) Take as many freebies from the hospital as you can – diapers, wipes, pump supplies, formula, mesh panties, pads, etc. Obviously don’t steal any larger items but in most cases, you will be encouraged to take these items home with you.
Chelsea Johnson says
These are great, too! I definitely took my fair share of those wonderful mesh undies and diapers!!! Thank you!
Maya B. says
Hi Chelsea. I’m so thankful this was pined on Pinterest at the right time that I saw it. Great article! First time mom due 11/2020. I think my only question out of this entire thing is everyone says the placenta is so painful to birth, but why wouldn’t the epidural help that pain if the baby birth was not as painful. I like what one person commented above that they requested that the placenta be removed with the umbilical cord I might do the same…which would be at same time as baby….and not wait so long after maybe allowing the meds to wear off?! A convo I will have with doctor for sure. Thank you again for the real article that all moms need to read!
Chelsea Johnson says
You’re so welcome! And congratulations! The placenta shouldn’t hurt when it’s delivered. The reason I had pain (even with my epidural) was because mine broke with my second baby and my doctor had to scrape it out of my uterus. Since the epidural had started wearing off by that point, it was not fun!
Hello! I am pregnant with my first! Due December 2022! Reading this has given me apt of information! Thank you
Chelsea Johnson says
Congratulations! And good luck!