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29 Things Women Wish They’d Known About Labor

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Inside: Labor is the great unknown at the end of pregnancy, and what helps with the unknown? Information and advice from real women who’ve already faced it! When asked what they wish they’d known about labor, here’s what they said.

I can still remember today just how uncertain I felt during my first pregnancy. 

I didn’t know what to expect about any of it – pregnancy, labor, birth, postpartum, breastfeeding. And that not knowing was SO unsettling.

Naturally, I was hungry for answers. First, I turned to What to Expect When You’re Expecting because let’s face it, sometimes your questions feel more than a little embarrassing. Having a book answer them feels safer.

But after finishing the book, I still had questions – so many questions. I turned to the next best source for answers: real women.

Real women were the ones who commiserated when my idiot midwife gave me a hard time about my weight gain and told me to lay off the ice cream (the real women told me to forget her and just drink the milkshake already).

They were the ones who assured me I could call them with all my awkward questions. And they were there for me throughout my pregnancy and after birth.

Most of all, they shared their birth stories, and what they wished other women would have told THEM about the scariest part of pregnancy, mostly because it’s the unknown: labor.

pregnant woman reading about what to expect during labor

What Real Women Wish They’d Known About Giving Birth – Or What They Wish They’d Done Differently


In light of that wish, I asked in a Facebook group, “What’s something you wish you knew before giving birth?”.  Over a hundred real women answered! 

So grab a cup of coffee and soak up the wisdom of women about labor and delivery – all the things they wished they’d known, in no particular order.

Let’s jump into their knowledge and advice.

You Might Also Like: 5 Ways to Mentally Prepare for Labor (Especially Natural Birth)

1. I wish I’d known to be patient and wait for labor to start on its own.

“I wish I hadn’t tried all the different induction methods at home and just relaxed and waited for labor to start on its own.”

One mom said, “Just wait for baby to come and rest while you can.” 

There are so many tips out there on how to jump start labor, but sometimes the best thing is to!

Get things done around the house. Get a pedicure. Take care of yourself, and enjoy some one-on-one time with your partner.

Baby will come when baby is ready to come.

2. I wish I’d known the risks of an epidural. 

Personally, I resisted an epidural with my first, but after being administered pitocin and my baby’s heart rate dropping during contractions, I ended up needing one. 

While I did not experience any difficulties, my niece did. Feeling did not return to one of her legs for 1-2 days post-delivery. 

After I heard that, I learned that other women have experienced long-term side effects. It’s important to consider these side effects before you go into labor. 

Keep in mind that it is your right to ask for the head of anesthesiology to administer your epidural.

And if you do decide to get one, make sure to speak up if you are still feeling contractions after receiving an epidural. They can adjust the catheter to make sure the medication is being administered appropriately.

Related: Four Ways to Handle Pain During Labor (+ the Pros and Cons of Each)

3. I wish I’d known that doctors sometimes push for c-sections when it’s not necessary.

Sometimes, a doctor might strongly recommend a c-section after you’ve been laboring for a long time. There are definitely hospitals that are very busy and well-known for wanting to “move things along.”

If they cannot give you a medically-necessary reason for a c-section, you can decline and continue laboring.

4. I wish I’d been more open to medically necessary interventions after considering risks. 

You can refuse a c-section all you want, but if doctors tell you one IS medically necessary, they usually aren’t lying to get a surgery instead of waiting on a long labor. 

Remember: the best outcome of labor is healthy mom, healthy baby. 

If you or your baby are not tolerating labor, no matter what positions you are using, listen to your doctor about medically necessary interventions.

5. I wish I’d known that I could refuse medication or ask for specific medications during or after labor.

“I was given fentanyl (not what I wanted) for pain after my water was broken which caused me to be drowsy and to lose a LOT of blood.”

You can ask specifically for ibuprofen and tell nurses in advance to clear any medication with you before administering.

6. I wish someone had told me how horrible pitocin is. 

When my water broke with my first baby and labor didn’t start, my midwife suggested pitocin, saying, “It mimics real labor.”

She straight up lied, people. Or else she’s never experienced pitocin? Who knows.

After five labor and deliveries, I know now that pitocin contractions are 5-10 times worse than regular contractions. They hurt soooo bad!

It might be medically necessary for some, but women should be informed that it is worse than real labor so they can mentally prepare and be open to pain interventions. 

There can also be side effects of pitocin that persist after birth. Again, ask for thorough information about side effects!

7. I wish I’d known that I could decline dilation checks. 

Who knew you could decline dilation checks? It never occurred to me to do so!

And let’s be honest, they’re usually not presented as an option, but more of a, “Time to check your progress!”

I always submitted to them as a necessary part of labor and delivery. And personally, I wanted to know my progress because I needed to know if I was getting close, for my morale.

But if you want to decline them, you absolutely can. So don’t be intimidated by the “lack of options” language doctors and midwives often use. 

8. I wish I’d been reminded that doctors and nurses work for YOU, not the other way around. You can say, “No.” 

Because doctors carry such a strong sense of authority, it’s easy to succumb to pressure to do things you’re not comfortable with. 

Remember: it’s YOUR body and YOUR baby. 

You can say no to authority figures. Just make sure you know what you want and have done your research before delivering in a hospital setting, and make sure your birth partner knows what you want, as well.

9. I wish I would have made a birth plan and known I could stick to it.

A birth plan is all of your preferences for labor and birth written down ahead of time. 

While labor doesn’t always go according to plan, knowing what you would prefer ahead of time can inform your providers what you want AND help your birth partner advocate for you when you can’t advocate for yourself. 

10. I wish I’d known you can decline IV fluids during labor and commit to hydrating with water and other beverages.

I wish I had considered giving birth at home and learned about different birthing techniques.

When asked about what they wish they’d known, women consistently talked about wishing they’d known about different ways to labor and give birth. Things like…

  • Giving birth at home
  • Water birth
  • Hypnobirthing
  • Different birth positions
  • Birthing balls

So mamas: do your research! Get yourself some books and educate yourself. Unless you opt for an epidural early on, you absolutely do NOT need to labor on your back in a hospital bed. 

11. I wish other women knew that doing squats daily before birth can speed up labor.

One mom said, “Squat 300 times a day, you’re going to give birth quickly!”

Most likely, this is anecdotal. But hey, there’s likely at least a little something to it! 

If you’re game, try building squats into your daily routine, although 300 a day sounds a TAD excessive. Make sure to clear it with your doctor if you want to be that intense.

12. I wish other women knew the benefits of having a doula.

Women said over and over again…

“You need a doula to advocate for you while you’re in pain…a doula can help step in when your husband is too scared to… Or, if he fainted.”

So look into the benefits of having a doula. Especially if your insurance is covering most of the labor and delivery costs, it could be worth spending the extra money to have a good birth experience!

13. I wish I’d known more about what to do if your baby is breech.

Breech doesn’t automatically equal c-section. There are doctors who are willing to work with you to try to turn a breech baby. 

You can also opt to wait until you are 41-42 weeks to see if baby turns on their own, or to try at home methods to get baby to flip (my baby was breech around 30-32 weeks, and I did many a headstand to get her to flip – and she did!)

Push for alternatives or seek out a doctor willing to consider alternatives. You still might end up with a c-section, but at least you’ll know you did all you could to avoid one.

14. I wish I’d known you can say, “No,” to induction.

Is induction sometimes necessary? Yes. Is it always necessary? No.

You do not need to be induced at 39 weeks just because. You can ask for more time before being induced if your water breaks and labor doesn’t start.

Advocate for yourself within reason, but in the end, listen to your doctor if they do believe it’s medically necessary for your health or the health of the baby.

15. I wish I’d known more about the pros and cons of having your water broken during labor.

Can it speed labor up? Sometimes. Is it super uncomfortable and does labor hurt more afterwards? Yes.

Read more about reasons to have your water broken…and reasons to decline. Remember: you can SAY NO.

16. I wish I’d known that women experience contractions differently – some feel them as painful, while others only describe feeling intense pressure.

You know those women who tell you labor doesn’t really hurt that much and it’s just intense pressure? That might not be YOU.

Mentally prepare for birth to be painful. Then be pleasantly surprised if it isn’t for you.

I’m a big fan of having realistic expectations – it can only go up from there!

17. I wish I’d known that NOT having an unmedicated natural birth doesn’t make you failure.

I was incredibly depressed when my first labor, which I wanted to be unmedicated, ended in a c-section. 

My labor didn’t start naturally – my water broke and eventually, I was given pitocin to induce labor because it still didn’t start on it’s own. 

Between the pain of pitocin and my baby not tolerating contractions as I approached 10 centimeters, I needed both an epidural and an emergency c-section. 

I felt like a failure because unmedicated births were put on a pedestal in my circle of friends. 

Repeat after me: the goal of labor is “healthy mom, healthy baby”. That’s it.

18. I wish I’d known I could push without being guided.

You know in all the movies, they show the doctor telling the women when to push? You can actually opt to listen to your body and not follow their advice.

However, keep in mind that midwives in particular are watching the contractions monitor and trying to help you NOT to tear.

Especially if you have an epidural or other pain medications, you might not always feel contractions as strongly, which could make guided pushing much more effective. 

19. I wish I’d had a list of questions to ask about labor at my particular hospital.

You do a whole hospital tour, but you really don’t know what questions to ask when you’re a doing this for the first-time.

Questions like…

  • Can you eat during labor if you aren’t getting medication?
  • Is there a nursery? (I was SHOCKED to learn there wasn’t one after delivering my 5th baby at a new hospital.)
  • What happens if my labor stalls? What are my options?

Make your list ahead of time so you don’t forget.

20. I wish I’d known to pack hospital bag snacks for yourself and your husband.

If you know if advance that hospital policy is no food, regardless of medication, pack snacks “for your husband”. You can sneak one in if you need it. 

Plus, you can eat them on the way to the hospital. 

And, they are for him, too. He needs to eat! Low blood sugar and being a labor coach/support do NOT mix.

Related: 17 Healthy Snacks to Pack in Your Hospital Bag (for You and Dad)

21. I wish I’d known about all the benefits of an unmedicated birth. 

So many women talked about the pros of a natural birth!

“Natural birth can be easier than medicated birth because you’re working with all of your senses.”

You can also walk and change positions during contractions, without being confined to the hospital bed.

Other women wished they’d known that medicine could make you feel worse after having a baby than just facing the pain of birth head on.

22. I wish I’d known that stalled labor doesn’t always mean you need interventions.

Stalled labor usually isn’t a reason for medical intervention but actually is a reason for less intervention. 

Less interventions and pressure can help you feel more safe, relaxed, calm, and open to birth.

WIth my second child, my labor stalled while I was at home. I went out and walked around the local track a few times because I really wanted my VBAC and no c-section! Labor started up again an hour later, and I went on to have a successful VBAC.

23. I wish I’d known about all the embarrassing things that can happen during labor and delivery.

Sometimes, women throw up during labor. Most women poop while they’re pushing. 

The noises you might make during labor can be kind of embarrassing. 

Accept and embrace all the messiness of labor before it starts!

24. I wish I’d known to let my body do the pushing for me. 

“I pushed and pushed until she was out. I pushed when I wasn’t even having a contraction – I was exhausted.”

Following your body’s natural instincts to push can save you a lot of energy and exhaustion. Trust your body, and follow your doctor’s pushing guidance when appropriate.

25. I wish I’d know that everything goes so fast once the baby is out. 

You go straight from pushing to cutting the cord, wiping baby down, breastfeeding, etc. 

“Make sure that you are 100% sure about your decisions and you are STERN about them. I wasn’t firm about mine and I had things happen when I was halfway out of it from exhaustion that I’m not happy about.”

Decide as much as possible in advance for things like having the baby put on your chest, who is cutting the cord, etc.

26. I wish I’d known that when you feel like you have to poop during labor, the baby is coming – as in, RIGHT NOW.

One woman said, “When you feel like you’re gonna poop, you better hurry your a** to the hospital because that baby is coming out.”

Another reason to time your contractions and head to the hospital at the appropriate time.

“When you have regular, painful contractions lasting one minute each and occurring at least every five minutes for more than two hours, it’s time to go to the hospital” (source).

27. I wish I’d known how to labor more effectively at home before heading to the hospital.

Many women said, “Labor at home as long as possible,” and, “Move around during labor.”

They also recommended moving around to get the baby to come down faster/easier. 

“If I sit down and get comfortable, my body stops having contractions. I do squats, lunges, stairs, etc., to help baby come faster.”

28. I wish I’d known more about how to handle contractions.

One mom puts it this way…

“Have a plan for when contractions hit: meditate, focus, bathe, squat. Contractions are waves, ride them. Breathe with them. Don’t fight what your body is naturally doing. And be patient.”

If you take away nothing else from birth classes, make sure to practice your breathing!

29. I wish I’d known to ask my birth partner to take more pictures.

Someone mentioned how they wished they’d had more pictures from labor and delivery.

This is super subjective – I definitely do NOT wish I had more pictures from any of my labors. But you also can’t get them back if you don’t have any to begin with.  

So when in doubt, ask your birth partner to take pictures, or ask another friend to come and take pictures during labor. 

You Might Also Like: The Best Tips for Dad During Natural Labor (Short & Sweet Advice)

pregnant woman preparing for labor, laying our newborn going home outfit on bed.

One More Time, Because It’s So Gosh Darn Important: Remember The Ultimate Goal of Giving Birth

I said it earlier, but it bears repeating: the ultimate goal of giving birth is “healthy mom, healthy baby.”

Not to be too much of a downer, but if you know anything about maternal mortality rates in the US, you know that this is not a guarantee.  

Make a birth plan, yes. But at the end of the day, put aside your lofty goals of exactly how you want your labor and delivery to go and accept that “healthy mom, healthy baby” is the best result.

I hope all of this advice is helpful for you going into labor! You can do this!

Read Next: 7 Natural Ways to Prepare Your Body for Labor

If you’re reading this and you’ve already given birth, what do YOU wish you’d known about labor? Share in the comments!


Thank You for Sharing!