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When my mom was 41 weeks pregnant with my brother, she loaded 16-month-old me onto a toboggan and went for a long walk through the February snowdrifts. Just as she’d hoped, she went into labour later that night. Coincidence? Who knows. Stories like this are often retold among family and friends. When it comes to labour, there are all kinds of persistent myths, from how to get it started to what makes it faster and whether wider hips makes it easier. We talked to the experts to separate fact from fiction.
1. Do more women really go into labour during a full moon? This is one of the more common myths out there. “There’s actually been a great deal of research done on this, and there’s no difference in birth rates related to the lunar cycle,” says Maggie Morris, an OB/GYN and a professor in the department of obstetrics, gynaecology and reproductive sciences at the University of Manitoba.
2. Will my water really break dramatically like it does in the movies and on TV? Television shows and rom-coms often depict labour starting with a theatrical, public whoosh of amniotic fluid (cue the ruined shoes jokes!). “Some of my patients are worried about going to the grocery store in late pregnancy because they think their water is going to burst everywhere,” says Morris. In reality, only 20 percent of women experience water that breaks as soon as labour begins, says Maren Dietze, a midwife in Lunenburg, NS. The “big whoosh” isn’t all that common—some women only get a constant trickle, while others lose an even smaller amount of fluid at first and then a larger gush comes later on.
3. Will my contractions start the minute my water breaks?
The majority of the time, your water breaks well after contractions start or, occasionally, right at delivery. Or your water may break and contractions won’t kick in for hours.
4. When I lose my mucus plug, does that mean I am officially in labour? The thick gathering of mucus at the cervix acts as a plug that prevents bacteria from entering—but losing it doesn’t mean it’s go time. “That’s one of the biggest myths out there,” says Dietze. “All it means is that the cervix is starting to change. It can happen two weeks before active labour begins or well after labour begins.”
5. I have wide hips, does that mean I will have an easier labour? It’s your pelvic bones that actually count most, says Morris. During labour, the hormone relaxin—as the name suggests—relaxes the connective tissue that holds the pelvic bones together so the baby can come out. Only five percent of women actually need a C-section because they’re carrying a baby that’s too big for their pelvis, Morris says.
6. Will castor oil and spicy foods send me into labour? These quick solutions that supposedly stimulate the digestive system and, in turn, the uterus, don’t really work, says Morris. They can actually make a preggo lady pretty miserable with diarrhea or heartburn.
7. Will my second labour really be less painful? It’s true that second (and subsequent) labours tend to be shorter—the cervix, pelvic-floor muscles and birth canal have already been stretched by the first birth, so going from initial contractions to full dilation usually takes less time. The pushing stage of labour is often shorter, too. However, as Morris points out, labour hurts, whether it’s your first time or your fourth—but at least it might not last as long.
Did you know? While spicy food, castor oil and full moons don’t encourage labour, sex might. “The only home remedy to start labour that I’d recommend is having sex, and that’s only if your due date is in the next few days anyway,” says Maggie Morris, a professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of Manitoba. Semen contains compounds called prostaglandins, which play a role in “ripening” or softening and opening the cervix, as well as causing contractions.
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