In my work as a birth professional I put an awful lot of energy into dispelling harmful and potentially harmful childbirth myths and misconceptions. Although it takes up more of my time than I would like, educating the public as much as I can and more importantly, being a voice for families, is probably one of the most important parts of my job. In today’s post I lay out of few of the most common myths about birth that I hear repeated over and over again. I’m going to share how these misconceptions came to be and why we should pause and reflect when we hear them.
- “Birth Plans Are Pointless”
This is probably the most misunderstood aspect of birth preparation. Many couples attend a childbirth class and most do some form of preparation, whether it’s reading a few books or getting recommendations and advice from their more experienced friends. But most do not take the time to write a birth plan. Why? I think it’s because they want to remain flexible and open and don’t want to “get their hopes up” too much about any one particular aspect of birth. Completely valid and reasonable. However, I strongly encourage you to reframe your thoughts around the purpose of a birth plan. It is primarily a communication tool, not a wish list. Most people assume that you write a birth plan as though you were making a Christmas list, and we all know what happens if we don’t get that one special present we were hoping for, right? We become disappointed, which can really put a damper on an otherwise joyful holiday.
- But what if you started thinking of your birth plan as you would a set of travel plans? You seek the best information you can about your destination from a few trusted sources, and pretty soon you have your whole trip planned out: what restaurants you’d like to get a reservation at, what activities look like the most fun and the best value, and the locations of the most comfortable hotels. Then you start making some phone calls and you realize that some of your top choices will need to be adjusted due to seasonal or budgetary restraints. (That’s exactly what can happen during a birthing process.) The restaurant you wanted to try doesn’t open for another month and the hotel doesn’t look quite the same in person as it did online. And that’s quite alright. Things work out in the end. But going on a trip without doing any research or making any calls ahead is like giving birth without a birth plan, and that’s exactly what so many people do. One of the key phrases I always share with people in my childbirth classes:“If you don’t know your options, you won’t have any.”
- “Midwives and Doulas Are for Home Births, Right?”
No! The majority of the births that both midwives and doulas attend happen in a hospital. Doulas are completely independent and therefore follow clients to the birthing location of their choice. Certified nurse midwives (CNMs) are licensed to attend birth in all 50 states and can choose their practice setting. Doulas fulfill a role that is 100% non-clinical and therefore do not need a license to practice. The personality of your doula and the relationship you have with them are honestly the most important credentials they have! As a doula trainer, I can certainly attest to the importance and benefits of a really good training and certification program. But these things are not actually essential to the role. A doula is ideally a paid professional and not related to or especially close with you (which changes quickly when they are hired)! The answers to why are found within another post.
- “When Your Water Breaks You Have to Go to the Hospital”
Not always true. It’s usually best to wait until you are in active labor before going to the hospital to reduce your chances of having a Cesarean, but sometimes (around 10% of the time) people are not in labor yet after their water breaks. I know that TV birth stories make this hard to believe! It is true that quite often, when the amniotic sac releases, it means labor is already well underway or will be shortly.
But if labor hasn’t started yet for you, rest assured that you can safely wait at home if you follow a few safety precautions. If you have tested positive for Group Beta Strep (GBS), then it makes sense to go to the hospital sooner rather than later to begin receiving a course of antibiotics every 4 hours until you give birth, even if you are not in labor yet. (Speak with your care provider on this matter.)
But if you are GBS-negative and are not yet having regular, steady contractions, it is safe to wait for labor to start on its own if:
- Your amniotic fluid was clear and fresh-smelling when it released
- You are feeling well and feeling your baby move normally
- When you monitor your temperature every hour (or every 4 hours at night) you do not have a fever
If however a fever develops or if the water is tinged with a color (brownish or greenish) these can be signs of infection or fetal distress, so monitoring in the hospital is definitely a good idea. What’s interesting to know is that hospitals are often the very source of the infection when it occurs, due to lots of cervical exams in germ-infested environments. Your home is the least likely place where you could contract an infection. (Please no sex and nothing in the vagina after your water breaks.) You can take a bath in a clean tub, though.
- “Go to the Hospital When Your Contractions Are 4 Minutes Apart”
Sometimes, yes. However a lot of folks misjudge this one because they don’t fully understand the bigger picture. If your contractions are 4 minutes apart, it is probably time to head to the hospital IF:
- They are consistently 4 minutes apart even if you change your activity level or your position. So for instance, if you’ve been lying down and experiencing a contraction every 3 to 4 minutes, but then you get up and walk around for awhile and you notice then that the contractions space out to every 7-10 minutes, it’s probably not active labor yet. Quite similarly, if you have been walking/active experiencing contractions every 3-4 minutes, try taking a bath or lying down. If your contractions space out, it’s probably not active labor yet.
- Contractions are each lasting 45-60 seconds long. When contractions first begin and sometimes for days after, they may only last between 20-30 seconds. Longer, stronger, consistent contractions are a better indicator of active labor.
- You are not able to talk or concentrate on something else during the contraction. Active labor contractions require a person’s full concentration.
- You notice “bloody show” when you use the restroom. Most often, when cervical change is occurring, the blood vessels in the cervix will begin to burst/release, and you will notice some blood-tinged mucous or even larger amounts of blood when you use the restroom. This is perfectly normal and safe and is a good sign of progress! P.S. There are other causes of increased mucous or even some light brown or pink discharge that have nothing to do with bloody show. Learn the signs!
To find out why waiting until active labor to go to the hospital reduces the changes of having a C-section, and to learn many different ways of coping with early and active labor, consider attending my class!
- “All That Matters Is a Healthy Baby”
This is said to people after their births so frequently and I understand why. After all, having a precious baby safe in your arms IS the most important thing at the end of the day. But I’ll tell you why saying this to a new parent can be very harmful: it’s because new parents often feel completely overshadowed or even neglected now that the baby’s here. No one seems to care about the incredibly difficult journey that the parents have just been on. And even though it’s not intentional, it’s really, really unfair. Please don’t say this to a new parent, because if they are struggling at all with feelings of disappointment, guilt or sadness about how their labor and birth occurred, this statement will make them feel as though their feelings are invalid. And that’s just not OK. All feelings are valid. Feelings don’t change what happened and they don’t change unrelated feelings of gratefulness, happiness, and peace about holding this new baby, but they can and do coexist. And it’s our job as supportive friends, family and professionals to recognize that.