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10 Myths About Labor and Birth

This article examines 10 common labor and birth myths, including if and when they're true.

Published December 30, 2022

by Kirsten White

Pediatric Nurse, BSN, RN

Medically reviewed by Stephanie Sublett

Board-Certified OB/GYN, FACOG, IBCLC

There is a lot of discussion surrounding labor and delivery, and rightfully so! You are about to birth a new human, which is a huge physical and emotional feat. The healthcare system, friends and family, social media, podcasts, and other influences all chime in to share birth stories, tips, and warnings. There are also plenty of myths floating around out there. Giving birth is not one-size-fits-all. Every labor and delivery is unique, and each mother experiences it differently. This article will explore and dispel some common myths about labor and birth.

10 Myths About Labor and Birth

Here are 10 myths about labor and birth and why they’re not true for all moms:

1. Losing the Mucus Plug Means Labor Is Near

The mucus plug is a collection of mucus and tissue that blocks off the cervix to protect infections from reaching your uterus during pregnancy. It is typically a clear, white, or slightly bloody glob of jelly-like material. When the cervix begins to dilate in preparation for labor, the mucus plug can fall out.1

One myth about labor and birth is that losing the mucus plug means labor will begin soon. However, this is not always the case.12 While cervical dilation could occur, active labor may not be near. In addition, the mucus plug can regenerate itself.1 With my first baby, I lost my mucus plug two weeks before going into labor. Then, I lost it again the day contractions began. Losing your mucus plug is not a good indicator of when labor will begin, as it could be hours to weeks away.1

If you suspect you have lost your mucus plug before 37 weeks of pregnancy, it is good to let your provider know. Otherwise, try not to overanalyze what this means about your labor timeline — it is nearly impossible to know, and your baby will come when they are ready.

2. You Can Only Chew Ice During Labor

You may have heard the myth that you are not allowed to eat and drink during labor or that you are only allowed to suck on ice chips. Of course, no one is stopping you from eating snacks or meals while you labor at home. This is part of the reason many birth educators recommend staying home while in labor for as long as possible.

Once you arrive at your birthing place, you may or may not be allowed to continue to eat. When I checked in to labor and delivery, my nurse brought me a menu and told me to order breakfast before the doctor placed orders to restrict my food intake. The reason for not being allowed to eat is that if you end up requiring a C-section, you risk vomiting and aspirating from sedation.2

For low-risk vaginal deliveries, avoiding food may not be necessary. A systematic review that looked at allowing food intake during labor revealed shorter labors and no increased risk for obstetric and neonatal outcomes. Eating during labor also did not increase the incidence of vomiting or the likelihood of a C-section.2 Talk to your provider about your hospital’s policy, and advocate for yourself if you are hungry in the labor room.

3. You Can’t Have a Vaginal Birth After a Cesarean

While every woman’s circumstances vary, vaginal births after cesarean sections (VBACs) are possible in many cases. Many times, providers will at least let you try to experience labor and vaginal delivery after a C-section. When appropriate, VBACs decrease maternal risks at delivery and for future pregnancies. Some risk factors for an unsuccessful VBAC include pregnancies very close or far apart, a high body mass index, and being overdue.3,4,5

If you have previously had a C-section and are interested in a vaginal birth this time, do not assume it is off the table for you. Talk to your provider about whether you can try for a VBAC.

4. Your Water Will Break Like in the Movies

Your water breaking, or “rupture of membranes,” only occurs before contractions in 8-10% of pregnancies. While a myth about labor and birth includes water breaking as the first sign of labor, and movies often show this, labor most often begins with contractions. If your water breaks before contractions, your baby will likely be born within the next few days. Once your water breaks, if you do not deliver, you are at risk for developing a placental infection, cord compression, placental abruption, and a C-section.6

Many movies also depict water breaking as a sudden gush of fluids. While this can sometimes be the case, rupture of membranes can also be a slow leak. This would cause constant wetness in the underwear and leaking of watery fluid from the vagina as opposed to one instance of a large amount of fluid. You may be imagining your water breaking suddenly and dramatically at home and knowing it is time to head to the hospital. But it is much more likely to happen later in labor. And at that point, you may not even know!6

5. C-Sections Are Always Terrible

The concept of a C-section can be scary, from the actual surgery to the recovery. Emergency C-sections can be particularly stressful, as it was likely not what you envisioned for your birth. However, there has been a significant push to make all C-sections, planned or unplanned, more like vaginal births. Some interventions include playing your choice of music in the operating room, dimming alarm noises, having your partner by your side, using a clear drape to see your baby right away, and putting your baby on your chest. At the same time, they stitch you up to make your C-section gentler and more peaceful.7

Some women report an easier recovery with a C-section, and many also report having peace of mind if they could schedule their C-sections in advance.13 While it may not be your first choice, having a C-section is not always as terrible as some say.

6. You Should Go to the Hospital at First Signs of Labor

This is it! You have been waiting for your whole pregnancy to deliver your precious baby, and now the time has finally come. You are experiencing contractions, and it feels like it is finally go-time. It can feel tempting to rush to the hospital as soon as you are in labor, but it may be best to wait in most cases. You are likely much more comfortable at home than in the hospital. Also, staying home can allow labor to progress more quickly and naturally than in a hospital environment.14 If you go to the hospital too early, they may even send you back home.

Many providers recommend following the 5-1-1 rule, meaning you should be having painful contractions every five minutes that last for one minute each for at least an hour before heading to the hospital. This may signal you are in active labor.15

You should contact your provider or go to the hospital if you have significant vaginal bleeding, have more than spotting, or notice decreased fetal movement. Otherwise, it is probably best to wait out early labor at home, as excited as you may be to get the show on the road!8

7. Labor Is Extremely Painful From Start to Finish

Perhaps you imagine constant, excruciating pain from when labor begins until your baby is in your arms. You may have seen depictions of women moaning or screaming relentlessly during labor. However, a beautiful part about labor is the built-in breaks from the pain. Contractions last about a minute, and while painful for many women, they end, and you have a break before another one.16 Try to take the contractions one at a time and visualize your next rest between surges. I have heard of women taking short naps between contractions or before pushing, even without having an epidural.

8. You Only Push for an Hour

When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I remember hearing the myth that the pushing part of labor and birth is typically quick. I have since learned that the pushing phase can last a few minutes to hours! First-time moms and moms with epidurals tend to push for longer. Pushing slower or more gently can decrease your risk of tearing by giving the vaginal tissue time and opportunity to stretch instead of break. If mom and baby tolerate pushing well, there should be no restrictions on how long you are permitted to push before intervention.9

9. You Must Give Birth on Your Back

Research shows that most women today give birth on their backs using coached pushing. For some women, delivering on their back allows for better rest between contractions. For others, pushing on their back works against gravity and natural forces. An epidural may make getting into an upright position more challenging, but you can ask for help and assistive positioning devices like a peanut ball if you do not want to push on your back. If you want to push in another position, do not feel limited to your back. Ask your nurse and provider to help you try other options.10,11

10. Everyone Poops While Pushing

It is normal to have a bowel movement during the pushing stage of labor.17 After all, the muscles used to push out your baby are like the ones used for defecating.18 Many providers say that if you poop during pushing, that means you are doing it right.17 However, not everyone poops during pushing. Some women experience diarrhea during labor and are all cleaned out when pushing comes around. Others simply do not experience this.17

While not everyone poops during labor, even if you do, it is nothing to worry about. Your doctors and nurses are used to it because it is common. They will clean it up before anyone (possibly including yourself!) knows it happened. With everything else going on during labor and delivery, a little bowel movement will be the last thing on your mind, trust me.

While many labor and birth myths have a bit of truth behind them, as you can see, they do not apply to every mom. Assembling your birth team, educating yourself on the labor process, and finding a provider you trust are the best things you can do for a safe and positive birth. Things may not go according to your birth plan, but setting goals for your labor and delivery will help things go more smoothly and positively. Try to find peace as the delivery day approaches, and don’t believe everything you hear!

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Kirsten White Pediatric Nurse, BSN, RN
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Kirsten White earned her nursing degree from Villanova University. Since graduating, she has worked with various pediatric populations as a nurse at Johns Hopkins and is currently working in school… Read more

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