Real talk: the idea of getting pregnant and giving birth is terrifying—namely because you don't know WTF you do after you pee on a stick and realize you are indeed knocked up.
Which is why we enlisted the help of Jane Mason, an ex-midwife and owner of Natural Birthing Company, to answer 13 questions every twentysomething has about pregnancy and giving birth that don't usually get answered.
1. "Will sex feel differently after giving birth?"
"In all honesty, it will—not necessarily worse, just different. Your vagina may feel a little looser initially, but by doing plenty of pelvic floor exercises regularly, the tone will return.
Initially, there can be some discomfort, so make sure you feel ready to try and explain this to your partner so they are aware to take things slowly. It's a good idea to try intercourse before you have your six-week check-up with your doctor so you have chance to report any issues to them. You may experience some vagina dryness due to your hormones, especially if breastfeeding—so get some lube at the ready! Lots of women report that after the initial discomfort is resolved, sex ends up feeling better than before, they are more sensitive down there, and enjoy more orgasms than before, so it's not all bad news."
2. "Will my vagina tear at all?"
Your vagina is a large muscle that has the ability to stretch to accommodate the baby as you give birth. It tends to be more common to tear on the perineum, which is the area between your vagina and anus, because this has a lot of stretching to do as the baby comes out. There is less chance of tearing if you avoid giving birth lying or sitting down, if the birth of the baby's head is slow and controlled, and if you have done a perineal massage during pregnancy.
3. "When I find out I'm pregnant, what do I do first?"
Think about the date of your last period and then put this into a calculator online, and it will tell you how many weeks pregnant you are. Call your doctor—they may want to know the date of your last period so they know how quick to get you to see them. Ideally, it's best to see her between weeks eight to 12 of your pregnancy.
If you haven't already been taking the recommended pregnancy supplements since you started trying for a baby (or maybe this baby was a surprise), then it's best to start taking 400 micrograms of Folic Acid daily until 12 weeks as this helps protect your baby from neural tube defects like spina bifida. 10 micrograms of Vitamin D daily is now also recommended in pregnancy, but make sure you don't take any Vitamin A supplements as these can cause harm to your baby.
4. "How do I chose a hospital?"
"You don't have to give birth in a hospital. You could have a home birth, then the midwife comes to you instead. However, the best way to choose a hospital is to ask friends and family of their experiences there. It's not always about what birth they ended up with, although this is important, but it's also about how the staff were and what the facilities were like. Some hospitals have separate birthing rooms set up specifically aimed at natural birth with pools, soft lighting, and facility to play music.
Also, distance from your home is a key player in all of this because you have to get yourself there at whatever time of day or night while in labor—so don't pick somewhere that's a 2-hour drive away."
5. "What do I bring to the hospital when my water breaks?"
"If your water breaks, wear a maternity pad (these are thick sanitary towels that don't have that fancy honeycomb coating), and then after you have rang the hospital and are invited in, take your hospital bag and your pregnancy notes with you. Don't forget to tell your birthing partner—they need to come along, too!"
6. "What does it feel like when your water breaks?"
"Some women describe it as feeling a pop inside them; there may be a gush of water that just comes from nowhere or you may just feel trickles. Some may have a constant damp feeling where you need to wear a maternity pad, or you may have to change all your clothing and mop the floor.
In later pregnancy, you can sometimes wee yourself accidentally so it's worth just doing the sniff test to see (as lovely as this sounds)—water doesn't smell like urine. If you have any thought that your water might have gone, you must ring your midwife or hospital to report this as they will probably want to see you."
7. "How frequently do people actually poo themselves during giving birth?"
"Not that often, to be honest—the body has this natural way of clearing itself out as it is preparing to go into labor, so you may have experienced frequent trips to the loo just prior to the big event. But don't worry, if you do poo a little bit (no one does a full blown bowel motion!), the midwives are very good at being discreet and getting rid of the evidence quickly so you are none the wiser."
8. "Are water births discouraged?"
"In general, no, not at all. However, there are some women who, for whatever reason, need a more medicalized level of care—for example, being hooked up to drips or having the baby monitored continuously throughout labor—these women would not be allowed a water birth."
9. "How accurate is a scan telling you what sex the baby is?"
"The baby has to be lying in a certain way in order for the 'bits' in question to be seen when you have your 20-week scan. Once this is achieved, if the sonographer is happy that they can see, then it will be 100% accurate. The difficulty comes when they don't get view of those 'bits.'"
10. "How long is the average birth?"
The length of labor can be dependent on many different factors, such as whether you are upright and mobile throughout, the position of your baby, the strength of your contractions, and how calm and relaxed you are. While it's tempting to count labor from the very first twinge you feel (and this is why family and friends may report labors that are three days long), the early phase of the first stage of labor is a bit unpredictable. The neck of the womb shortens its length and opens up to 4cm, so when the doctor calculates your length of labor, this won't be included. The active part of labor is from 4cm dilation up to the pushing phase, which can average eight hours, but it could be much shorter or much longer than this! Pushing your baby out can take between one to two hours for first time moms.
11. "How common are emergency cesareans?"
"Emergency cesareans account for approximately 15% of all births throughout the UK. Emergency cesareans sections are done really as a last resort, when there is no other option."
12. "Are there certain things you should and shouldn't eat during pregnancy?"
Yes, the list is quite long and it's worth checking in with your own doctor for the latest advice as sometimes new foods get added to the list. Here are the basics to avoid:
- Soft cheese with white rinds, including goat cheese
- Soft blue cheese
- Raw or undercooked meats
- Liver or liver containing products
- Tuna—limit to four cans or two steaks a week
- Oily fish such as salmon—limit to two portions per week
- Raw shellfish
- Wash all fruits and vegetables to remove any trace of soil
- Be careful with soft ice cream due to the cleanliness of the machines it's dispensed from!
- Reduce your caffeine intake by opting for decaffeinated drink options.
13. How common are natural births?
More common than you would think. Lots of women have normal births either in a birthing pool or on dry land, with little or no pain relief, but people don't really talk about these experiences. It's not always how it sometimes appears on TV with women screaming and nurses running down corridors—promise!
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.