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8 Things Labor and Delivery Nurses Want You to Know About Birth

By Chaunie Brusie, B.S.N., R.N.
Reviewed by Alyssa Quimby, M.D.
February 02, 2024

I spent many years on the labor and delivery floor of my local hospital, and although working the night shift wasn’t always my idea of fun, being a labor and delivery nurse was a dream come true. I loved the thrill of a patient stepping off the elevator, never knowing by their face whether they would be in full-blown labor (you can’t always tell from the look of someone) or whether we were just starting the journey. I loved watching their transformation from person to parent.

I also know from those years that parents-to-be tend to be anxious, and understandably so. From worrying about pooping on the delivery table to not knowing your threshold for discomfort, it can be hard to know what to expect. To help clear up a few misconceptions and give you the lay of the land, we asked real labor and delivery nurses to share their best tips for the big day.

1. Birth Is Unpredictable

Liesel Teen, a registered nurse from Raleigh, North Carolina, says, “I meet so many women who come in with very rigid birth plans and limited willingness to deviate from that plan. Birth plans are great and something I highly recommend. But it is important for you to look at a birth plan more as birth wishes.”

In other words, if things start to take an unexpected turn, it’s important to “keep an open mind and remain flexible,” Teen says. “At the end of the day, our No. 1 goal is a healthy mom, a healthy baby, and a healthy mind.”

“Giving birth takes some people four to five hours, and for others it takes a few days,” adds Shannon Cheng, a labor and delivery nurse at Jersey City Medical Center, in New Jersey. “The fact is, the baby is in charge. Flexibility is the best way to approach your labor.”

2. Do What Works for You

When it comes to pain management during labor, nurses have seen it all. Popular methods include taking a shower, bouncing on a yoga ball, and massage. Teen remembers one particularly surprising coping strategy she saw a patient use: kissing.

“I had a patient who was laboring with her first baby, and she didn't want an epidural,” she remembers. “When she got to 8 to 9 centimeters, she was having a difficult time coping. Her husband was in the room. At one point he kissed her. She told me that the contractions were way more tolerable when he was kissing her. They spent the next hour embracing and passionately kissing each other until she got to 10 centimeters and could start pushing.”

If making out during labor is not for you, Cheng notes that there are many other ways to deal with pain. For instance, she’s seen success with things like acupuncture, massages, hypnotherapy, and aromatherapy.

“At my last hospital in Minnesota,” she says, “we offered hospital-grade essential oils to help with pain management. Lavender is good for labor.”

3. Make Sure Everyone in the Room Is Prepared

It’s easy to think that if the birthing person is prepped and ready to go, everything’s set. But Teen admits that even when she gave birth, she made the mistake of not preparing her husband in advance. Because she was and is a labor and delivery nurse and planned on using a doula, she figured he would be fine.

“He didn't know what to expect,” she says. “[He] had a hard time watching me experience the worst pain of my life. Even though I prepared myself, I wish I would have had him take a birth class with me so that he felt comfortable in the labor room.

“Also, be prepared for how long it can last. Some first-time moms can labor for days—a lot of partners aren't prepared for that at all.”

It’s an important takeaway to remember that anyone who will be in the labor and delivery room—partner, friend, family member, whomever—should have some education first.

4. Poop Happens

If you’re worried about pooping while you give birth, Teen wants you to know three things:

  1. You probably will.
  2. It’s really no big deal (pretty much everyone does).
  3. It’s actually a sign you’re pushing correctly.

“Pooping uses the same muscles as pushing,” explains Meredith G., a registered nurse from Texas. “So, if you’re pooping, you’re pushing effectively! Totally normal, and we don’t care one bit.”

5. Pain May Become Positive

This one comes with a disclaimer, of course, because every pregnant person experiences pain differently, but Cheng says the pain of labor can be unique because it’s one of the few times in our lives that pain is not a bad thing, but actually a good thing.

“I have coached hundreds of thousands of women through unmedicated births,” she explains. “I help guide the birthing parent to think of the physical sensation as a positive rather than a negative. A lot of what makes something painful worse is how we’re interpreting that pain. It’s important to remember that labor pain is not a sign that something is wrong: This is the journey toward meeting your child. It’s an intense physical sensation, but it isn’t punishment or suffering.”

6. If You Are Grateful, Say So

If you want to gift your birthing team after delivery with something to express your thanks, Teen notes that the best gift she ever received was a simple, heartfelt, and personalized thank-you card.

And when in doubt, Cheng has one recommendation: “Chocolate! We are crazy about chocolate.”

7. Don’t Forget These Essential Items

Forget the perfect going-home outfit or dressing gown for yourself: All of our nurses say the two most valuable and forgotten items are phone chargers and hair ties.

“You can totally bring your own pillow, gown, anything you need to make your stay more comfortable,” Meredith adds. “For me, I picked up a cheap pillow on my way to the hospital, which was amazing because hospitals never seem to have enough pillows, and they are incredibly flat.”

8. The Nurses Are There for You

While birth can be unpredictable, if there is something you’re hoping for during your labor, don’t be afraid to speak up.

“We want you to have the birth you want,” Meredith says. “Anything from low interventions and a full birth plan to an epidural with formula feeding—this is your day. We just facilitate it.”

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