As research finds 78% of mums are ‘horrified’ by what they experience during and after birth, a midwife discusses what may surprise them.
Childbirth and the weeks afterward are things no woman, particularly first-time mothers, can be fully prepared for – and new research suggests the majority of mums are shocked by what they go through and wish people talked more honestly about it.
The study of 2,000 mums found 78% were left horrified by the processes their body went through during and after childbirth, and more than a third (36%) admitted they felt unprepared when it came to the ‘fourth trimester’, i.e. the 12 weeks after the birth.
A similar proportion of mums believe the fourth trimester isn’t discussed enough and that more focus is placed on the birth rather than the post-partum period. Nearly a third (32%) of mums feel unprepared for the sometimes harsh realities of the weeks after the birth, while a whopping 60% wish friends and family had been more honest with them about it.
— Dr. Arjang Naim (@ArjangDr) November 18, 2021
“There will be many trying times during the first few years of parenthood, and they won’t all work out the way you’d planned or hoped,” warns Chelsea Hirschhorn, CEO of the parenting brand Frida (frida.com), which carried out the study.
Nobody is more aware of what a woman goes through during and after childbirth than a midwife, and Clare Livingstone, professional policy advisor at the Royal College of Midwives (rcm.org.uk), points out that the overriding feeling when new mums reflect on their childbirth and postpartum journey should be pride, rather than horror at what their body goes through.
“New mothers should rightly feel very proud of what they’ve achieved and what their body is capable of, rather than the other way around,” she stresses. “But clearly there are unexpected effects from childbirth.”
Here, Livingstone outlines some of the things new mothers may not be prepared for during the birth and fourth trimester…
1. Your birth plan won’t necessarily be followed
The Frida research found 28% of mums wished they’d known their birth plan could go out the window so easily, and Livingstone stresses it’s crucial for new parents to be flexible.
“It’s important that mums and dads have an open mind about the birth itself, so while a birth plan is a great idea and it focuses people’s minds, it isn’t a fixed plan that can’t be changed at any stage,” she explains. “Ideas you may have before may change on the day, and that’s fine.
“It’s good to be flexible, and mums should be kind to themselves too. Birth plans get you thinking about what it is you’d like, and also it alerts others to what your choices are likely to be. It doesn’t matter if you change your mind, and there’s no wrong way of doing things, it’s such a personal choice.”
2. Unimaginable tiredness
“Tiredness is probably the number one unexpected effect after a woman has a baby,” warns Livingstone.
“New parents are just blown off their feet with that – nothing can prepare you for it. I don’t think anyone’s advice could warn you about how tired you’re going to feel. Lots of rest is what’s needed, when it’s possible!”
3. It’s vital to ask for help
Livingstone urges all new parents not to be scared to ask for help, although she points out that while new mums need to take it easy, they should make sure they move at least a little.
“It’s the time to get the family in to help with all the practical stuff like making meals, cleaning, and laundry, and mums trying to avoid those really physical tasks. Women should always mobilise postnatally, but I wouldn’t say they should be hanging up the washing and that sort of thing.”
4. You can ask your midwife anything
“There’s no such thing as a silly question,” stresses Livingstone.
“Midwives have seen and heard it all before, so never think your midwife will judge you, because they won’t. They’ll be pleased you’re asking questions – it’s a good sign.”
5. Breastfeeding won’t necessarily be easy
Breastfeeding is often something both mothers and babies have to learn, warns Livingstone. “Breastfeeding is always challenging, especially for first-time mums – they need support and reassurance,” she stresses. “There’s a bit of pain and discomfort, but that will alleviate as you get used to it and more practised, and get the positioning correct. The baby has to learn too – you’re learning the whole thing together.”
6. You should be prepared to not be prepared!
#Childbirth is an experience in a woman's life that holds the power to transform her forever.
— How to get pregnant (@GetPregnantABC) November 16, 2021
The research found 26% of mums wished they’d known how painful childbirth could be, and the same percentage wished they known just how long labour can be – but these are, of course, things that are unique to every mother and simply can’t be predicted.
“These things are usually discussed,” says Livingstone, “but whether you’re ready for that information until things are actually happening is another matter.”
“You need to be ‘in the zone’ to be ready to absorb information you’ve been given, otherwise it’s only hypothetical – it’s someone else’s experience, it isn’t yours. It’s only once you’re living it that you can take it on board.”
And she adds: “Remember, everyone’s different and not every solution fits every mother – it’s whatever works for you, as long as it’s not unsafe.”