All The Weird Things That Happen When You Give Birth

Photo: Getty Images.
The miracle of birth can seem more like a scene from a science fiction movie than a medical procedure. Sure, the process of labor and delivery is methodical at this point in modern medicine, but giving birth can really rock someone's body from the inside out. The list of plausible side effects of birthing a human range from pooping on a table to orgasming.
"Birth is so individual, there's so much variation in how moms experience birth," says Adena Bargad, PhD, MSN, CNM, assistant professor of nursing and coordinator of women's health subspecialty at Columbia University School of Nursing. "The experience is theirs, so whatever particular feelings, behaviors, and attitudes come — it's all good."
We asked people who see a lot of births on the regular — Ob/Gyns and certified nurse midwives — what new mothers are most surprised about when it comes time for delivery. Here's the good, the bad, the ugly, and the miraculous truth about what happens when you produce a person from your body.
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Your water has a specific smell.

Water breaking isn't usually a deluge or gush like it is in the movies, says Rebekah Ruppe, DNP, CNM, assistant professor of nursing at Columbia University School of Nursing. "It's more commonly a less dramatic feeling of wetness," she says. And it has a "very unique" smell that's sweet and musty, she says.
2 of 14

You can orgasm.

Orgasming during labor is possible, but it's not very common, explains Shilpi Mehta-Lee, MD, assistant professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYU Langone. "The process of labor involves uterine contractions, so one could see how those two things could be similar, because an orgasm can have uterine contractions," she says. Also, the time right after delivery is often described as a peaceful, blissful period, so it's possible that it feels similar to an orgasm, too, she says.
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It stings.

You've probably heard that birth kind of hurts, but Ruppe says there can be an intense burning and stinging feeling when a baby crowns and the vagina stretches. "Think of putting on a turtleneck," she says, describing what your vagina experiences when the baby's head passes through. An off-the-shoulder top sounds much comfier, but okay.
4 of 14

Umbilical cords are tough.

If you want your friends or family to cut the umbilical cord, they are allowed to, but most people are surprised about how sturdy it is, Dr. Bargad says. "It feels like cutting through strong rubber tubing," she says.
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You lose blood.

Blood is a normal part of giving birth, because a person's cervix opens when labor begins, Dr. Bargad says. "Most women lose about half a quart of blood, really not much," she says. "A very small percentage of women bleed more than that." For perspective, you usually lose up to one cup of blood during your period, so this is twice that.
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You want to rip off all your clothes.

Before the pushing phase of labor, many women get irritable, start swearing, and feel "an overwhelming need to remove whatever they might be wearing," Ruppe says. "They might also shiver or tremble uncontrollably, feel nauseous or even vomit, and have hot or cold flashes," she says. But according to Ruppe, the good news is that this is all a sign that the person is doing great and they're almost to the pushing stage.
7 of 14

Your vagina might not get cut open.

Thinking about an episiotomy (cutting the vaginal opening to make it bigger) is enough to make you do a kegel, but they're actually rarely necessary, Ruppe says. About 12% of vaginal births require an episiotomy, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. It's only done when there's urgency to get the baby born ASAP, and it's easily repaired with stitches if need be, she says.
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Babies are slimy.

Doctors try to get babies from the vagina to the mother's chest immediately, because skin-to-skin contact has physical and emotional benefits, Ruppe says. When babies are fresh out of the oven, they're covered in vernix, which is a "waxy, cream cheesy-like substance" that some women find strange. "It's like the baby's first body lotion," she says. "It helps the baby slide out of the birth canal, protects the baby's skin from the watery environment in the womb and dry air out in the world, helps keep the baby warm, and even fights infection!" There's no need to wash it off — just rub it in, she says.
9 of 14

Pooping is almost inevitable.

All of that pushing and pressure from the baby on your rectum makes many people poop, Dr. Bargad says. "Whoever attends your birth is a pro at wiping it away so quickly and easily that you and your support people won't even be aware of it," she says. Embrace it, or just don't let the fear of pooping keep you from a good push, she says.
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You don't have to scream.

There's no wrong or right thing to say when you're pushing out a baby. Bailey says she once saw a woman in labor without pain medication who wanted to laugh the baby out. She requested that everyone present tell her dumb blonde jokes (she's blonde) until the baby came out. "We sat around telling dumb blonde jokes so she would start laughing belly laughs, and she had the baby," she says. "It's the complete opposite narrative of a screaming woman."
11 of 14

You might not get your doctor.

Hospitals today have between five and 10 Ob/Gyn's doing the bulk of care, so there's always a chance that you have a different doctor on-call for your baby's delivery, Dr. Mehta-Lee says. "The doctor on-call may not be the person who had a relationship with you during prenatal care," she says. Dr. Mehta-Lee suggests trying to meet the other doctors on-call who might deliver your baby before you get close to your due date. "Pick a hospital you trust, and trust the group as a whole," she says.
12 of 14

Getting your placenta home can be tough.

First things first: There's no scientific evidence that ingesting your placenta actually provides any benefits, doctors can't confidently say eating placenta is harmless, and there's a risk for contamination when someone handles and prepares one. But many people still want to try it, and making that happen might be harder than you'd expect — while hospitals in some states will just hand it over, other states make you go through a funeral home if you want to take home your placenta, because they're treated as medical waste, says Joanne Motino Bailey, CNM, Director of the Nurse-Midwifery program at the University of Michigan. You may even need a court order to get your placenta, depending on the hospital's guidelines.
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They let you watch.

Doctors want to give you the best view in the house, so some will hold a mirror by your vagina so you can watch. "It can be a very helpful tool during delivery to help a woman focus on exactly when and how to push," Dr. Bargad says. Some women don't want to see it, and opt to use their hands to feel the baby's head and know how to push, she says.
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You can pull your baby out.

When the baby is basically out, Bailey says she lets moms hold onto the baby and bring it up to their chest on their own. "Every mom who does that will say it was the most amazing experience of their entire life, because it's like going full circle," she says. It doesn't always go smoothly, because when the baby comes out, it's hard to grip. But luckily, there's tons of people around to support and help, she says.