10 Common Questions About Labor and Delivery

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Nancy LeBrun on September 17, 2020
  • Young Asian mother breastfeeding newborn infant in hospital room at sunrise
    What Giving Birth Is Really Like
    A woman’s water breaks and a couple jumps in the car, careening to the hospital. During labor, the mom exists on a diet of ice chips, screaming as she endures agonizing contractions. Is this pop culture image of delivery for real? Some long-held beliefs about having a baby are no longer valid–or never were. Giving birth is as individual as you are, so here are some answers to help set the record straight.
  • Pregnant woman and husband in bed
    Q: Can you kick start labor?
    Answer: Maybe. You may have heard that eating spicy food, having sex, or stimulating the nipples can start labor. The least reliable of these theories is the spicy food one, which suggests that a busy digestion can trigger contractions. Having sex, though, has been linked to earlier onset of labor and nipple stimulation makes the body secrete oxytocin, which is known to stimulate contractions. Still, no matter how ready you feel, it’s best to let your body and your baby take the lead when it comes to timing.
  • pregnant woman talking to doctor
    Q: Is it “go time” when you feel the baby drop?
    Answer: Again, maybe. When your baby moves lower in your body, it’s preparing to be born, but delivery may still be weeks away. On the other hand, it could be a matter of hours, so it’s not a reliable sign. Likewise, your cervix may begin to soften or thin and open weeks before the first stage of labor begins. So what should you rely on? Your best bet is to talk to your healthcare provider about how to assess contractions for signs it’s time to put the suitcase in the car and head out.
  • USA, Utah, Payson, Pregnant woman in labor at hospital
    Q: Is delivery imminent when your water breaks?
    Answer: More than likely, yes. When your water breaks it can be a gush or a trickle–you may not even know it happened. If you’re not sure, contact your healthcare provider right away, because you should begin labor within a day, if you’re not in labor already. If you don’t go into labor soon after your water breaks, there’s a risk of infection that your healthcare team needs to manage.
  • Pregnant Hospital Patient with IV
    Q: Is induced labor quicker than spontaneous labor?
    Answer: Yes, but... The frequency of artificially induced labor has risen sharply in the past years. It may shorten the duration of labor by an hour or so, but the drugs can cause stronger contractions, increasing stress on both your uterus and your baby. However, a recent study showed that first-time mothers receiving a scheduled labor induction with oxytocin did not experience more complications compared to to women receiving normal labor management. Also, the C-section rate was lower. Still, every pregnancy is different. Elective labor induction is best when it's a shared decision between you and your doctor based on your and your baby's health, your preferences, the doctor's experience, and the facility where induction will take place. 
  • Chinese mother holding sleeping newborn
    Q: Is the second baby easier to deliver?
    Answer: Not necessarily. It may have been the case for the cousin of your best friend’s sister-in-law, but the statistics don’t hold up when it comes to how your labor will go for the second baby and subsequent children. Nor is it true that you are likely to have the same kind of childbirth experience that your mom did, so it’s best to let go of your expectations and remember it will all be worth it in the end.
  • Hospital meal tray of food rr
    Q: Is it safe to eat during labor?
    Answer: Generally, yes. The American College of Anesthesiologists recently advised that a light meal may be beneficial during labor. It can give you much needed energy to get through the experience, which has been compared to the effort needed to run a marathon. But because giving birth is such an individual experience, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor beforehand, who will know if a simple snack, such as soup or a small sandwich, is safe for you to eat.
  • Man supporting wife giving birth in hospital
    Q: Is the “ring of fire” more painful than contractions?
    Answer: It varies from woman to woman. The reality is a hard head is trying to get through a small space, and there’s no getting around it. Crowning, (when the baby shows through the vagina during a contraction) comes with a burning sensation known as the “ring of fire.” But the good news is it’s over quickly and followed by a numbness that is a result of the skin stretching.
  • Couple looking at their newborn baby for the first time
    Q: When does my baby’s immune system start developing?
    Answer: Usually during delivery. our baby is starting to build immunity even as you’re giving birth, taking on good bacteria from your gut that colonizes and begins to protect your child. In cesarean sections, the newborn doesn’t naturally get that exposure. Researchers are testing wipes, which they cover in fluid from the mother’s birth canal and use to swab the baby, to transfer “good” bacteria from mom to child. Some early evidence shows it can work, at least in part.
  • Mother holding newborn
    Q: When I’m holding my baby, is labor over?
    Answer: Not quite. You still have to deliver the placenta and you will have contractions, but they are relatively mild. You may also be asked to push, but the placenta usually comes out within five minutes to half an hour. If you have a C-section, your healthcare team will remove the placenta during the procedure. Some women like to see or keep the placenta, so be sure to tell your provider about your preferences.
10 Common Questions About Labor and Delivery

About The Author

Nancy LeBrun is an Emmy- and Peabody award-winning writer and producer who has been writing about health and wellness for more than five years. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
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  8. Grobman WA, Rice MM, Reddy UM, et al. Labor Induction versus Expectant Management in Low-Risk Nulliparous Women. N Engl J Med 2018;379:513-523. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30089070
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 17
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.