7 Surprising Things That Can Happen During Labor

Image via Chaunie Brusie/ j&j brusie photography

Most of us go into labor feeling pretty prepared these days.

From countless articles, childbirth classes, and the ever-popular mother-to-mother advice, it can feel like you've covered everything that could possibly happen during labor on your carefully thought-out birth plan (whether on paper or just in your head).

But just to be safe, allow me to look back over my years as a labor and delivery nurse and give you a sneak peek into some of the potentially surprising circumstances that can arise during labor.

{ MORE: More Workplaces Are Giving Employees Miscarriage Leave }

Image via Flickr/ Francis Storr

A drug screen

Not exactly the picture-perfect entrance into motherhood you were picturing, huh? But drug screens are often routine in maternity wards upon admission. Check with your nurse if you have any questions about undergoing the drug screen and make sure they ask for your permission to do one.

{ MORE: Welcoming Babies Around the World: Beautiful Traditions }

Image via Flickr/ stevendepolo

A mandatory shower

While policies vary, of course, some hospitals require a mandatory shower with antibacterial soap before labor or even a c-section. The antibacterial soap just helps make sure everything is as clean as possible, and trust me when I say that it's not a far stretch to assume that not everyone showers on a regular basis. If you've just hopped in the shower before coming to the hospital, don't be afraid to let your nurse know you will be skipping the antibacterial bath. No harsh feelings, I promise.

Image via Flickr/ tiarescott

A quick dip

Not in the pool for you, but rather a quick dip in your baby's heart rate may send your nurse running into your room. When you are being monitored, a central monitor displays your baby's heart rate and your contraction pattern so your nurse can keep an eye on your activity, no matter where he or she may be. So if you suddenly have a nurse burst into your room, fear not–it's probably just an issue with your baby's heart rate. And the majority of the time, all it takes is a quick turn in the bed for you and a little boost of fluids in your IV to get everything looking good again.

Image via Allegro Medical

A bedpan encounter

If you choose an epidural for your pain management, or if you have a high-risk complication during your labor, like high blood pressure, you might not be able to safely use the restroom out of bed. Instead, your nurse will empty your bladder using a catheter (a small tube that is inserted manually) or she might be willing to let you try the bedpan. Speaking from personal experience, I will say the bed pan is extremely hard to use effectively, but I have seen some moms–even with very good epidurals–use them and swear by them. Don't be afraid to give it a go! (No pun intended …)


Image via Flickr/ DeSegura89

An oil bath

Yup, you read that right. If your care provider is a midwife, she may just be fond of the old-fashioned remedy of using some warm olive oil to soften your perineum and prepare it for birth. My midwife lugged an old crockpot in to my room before birth, plugged it in, and I prepared for a somewhat surprising perineal massage. Not awkward at all at that point in labor, actually …

Image via Flickr/ photosavvy

Delayed pushing

So you reach 10 centimeters dilated and you immediately start pushing, right? Um, not so much. Unlike the movies, pushing doesn't always work that way. It may take some time for your baby to “labor down” and reach the point in your birth canal when you feel the urge to push. Your nurse will probably inform you that you will wait for the feeling to push, and it could be hours after you are fully dilated before you actually start pushing.

Image via Flickr/ Bill Selak

Your contractions may look bigger than they are

During labor, most women are hooked up to an external fetal monitor (the one that straps on your belly), and while it measures that contractions are happening, it can't measure the true intensity of a contraction, because the true intensity is the pressure occurring inside the uterus. So your contractions may look huge on the monitor but not be affecting you as much. And conversely, your contractions may look measly on the monitor but be blowing you away in real life. Bottom line–don't put all your faith in those monitors! Only you know your pain threshold during labor.

{ MORE: Study Shows Midwives Bring Many Benefits to Safer Birth Outcomes }

Did anything that happened during your labor come as a surprise to you?

Read More

What do you think?

7 Surprising Things That Can Happen During Labor

Chaunie Brusie is a writer, mom of four, and founder of The Stay Strong Mom, a community + gift box service for moms after loss. ... More

Tell us what you think!


  1. Lisa says:

    I work for an OBGYN and with the current rules, we are no longer required to let the patient know that they are getting a drug screen.

  2. Kristi says:

    I love the idea of a bedpan when you have an epidural, I’ll try that next time I think! Every time I have a catheter it makes it almost impossible to pee afterwards. One time I couldn’t go for hours so they had to relieve the pressure in my bladder with a catheter again, wasn’t very pleasant.


EverydayFamily.com Week-by-Week Newsletter

Receive weekly updates on your pregnancy or new baby’s development as well as Free Stuff, Special Offers, Product Samples, Coupons, Checklists and Tools you can use today, and more from EverydayFamily! Plus all new members are entered to win FREE diapers for a year! Receive weekly updates on your pregnancy or new baby’s development as well as Free Stuff, Special Offers, Product Samples, Coupons, Checklists and Tools you can use today, and more from EverydayFamily! Plus all new members are entered to win FREE diapers for a year!

Due Date or Baby's Birth Date

By clicking the "Join Now" button you are agreeing to the terms of use and privacy policy.

Send this to a friend