The nitty-gritty FAQ of birth

Jennie Blythe
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Pregnant woman (with questions)
Like love, there is so much portrayed in the media about labour, and passed down through hearsay, that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish what is a realistic expectation for the time when your baby will be delivered. All labours are different, but many of the questions and the myths about birth are the same. Here are just some of them.

Will I have to have an enema?
An enema is where your bowel is evacuated prior to delivery. These days it is not common for your bowels to be "washed out" in this way. In years past it used to be a common procedure to prevent defecation during delivery, but it has been shown that there's still a chance that this may happen anyway. Furthermore, many women find that they feel the urge to pass bowel motions just before or during the beginning phases of labour, in any case, ensuring that the bowel is empty. It is perfectly normal to pass a motion during labour — famously, Jools Oliver, wife of TV super-cook Jamie Oliver and author in her own right, has said that this also happened to her. You'll also most likely have other things on your mind if it happens to you, reducing any embarrassment you may normally feel!

Will I have to shave "down below"?
Again, this practice is becoming increasingly less common in general midwifery and will come down to personal preference. If you routinely wax or shave your pubic area, there's no reason why you can't continue doing this. If you prefer not to shave or wax, very occasionally the doctor or midwife may ask if your pubic hair can be clippered or shaved off so that episiotomy cuts can be properly stitched up. Ask at the centre where you're due to give birth about what their current procedures are, and whether you can state a preference as to your 'do on the day.

How long will I bleed for afterwards?
New mothers will bleed for between two weeks and three months after giving birth, though a month is about average. This bleed is called lochia and is perfectly normal — it can also be quite heavy and bright red at first, before tapering off to a lesser, darker brown and then a yellowish colour. Invest in some heavy-duty sanitary pads!

What if I need to go to the loo?
During early labour, you will most probably be able to visit the toilet as normal and indeed, as mentioned above, you may feel the urge to empty your bowels more often than usual. Many women report that they don't often feel the need to urinate during the full-on part of the labour, even though they drink plenty of water. One reason for this is that the gas can be quite drying. You might also find that you sweat a lot.

A day or so after labour, many women find that they can't stop visiting the toilet. This is the time when any fluid retained during the pregnancy is excreted. Think months of bloating — you could be visiting the loo quite a few times!

I can't go to the loo!
It's not uncommon, immediately after your baby has been born, that you feel unable to urinate — this may be because your bladder suddenly has its full capacity back or is dulled from anaesthesia, or because — actually — you can't face the pain of urine on those stitches and stretched bits! Drink plenty of water and have some water in a bottle handy when you actually go to the toilet: squirting it on the stitches can help to take away the sting!

It's not just urine that may take its while coming. You may not be able to empty your bowels for psychological reasons, or because there's not actually anything to empty. As with other forms of constipation, make sure you eat plenty of fibre, drink plenty of clear fluids and try to move around as much as you can. The first couple of times you go it may be painful, but this will ease as time goes on.

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