Mother and Baby

What birth *really* feels like for your baby

Think your labour story is interesting? Just imagine if newborns could speak…

Labour. Think it’s only you doing the hard work? In reality, it’s a joint effort. Your baby’s not a sleepy passenger, but a co-driver doing their best to push its way into the world.

Here's what birth feels like for your baby during every stage of labour... 


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1) Early labour

Your baby will be pressing his head into the birth canal to start the dilation (opening) of the cervix.

‘As you go into labour, your baby will be producing lots of the hormone oxytocin, which puts him in a content, calm mood,’ says midwife Amanda Gwynne.

Hopefully, he’ll remain that way. But if your waters break and are greenish in colour, it could be a sign your baby has released meconium (poo) as a result of distress, in which case you’ll be monitored closely. Your baby will continue to move during labour and will probably take the odd 40-minute nap.

How to help: If you’re feeling stressed and anxious, your baby could be feeling the same way as cortisol and adrenaline, the hormones produced by these emotions, can cross the placenta. Stay relaxed by closing your eyes and thinking of a place that makes you feel calm.
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2) Active labour

Your baby will be getting a bit squashed. During each contraction, your baby is squeezed tightly in your womb, which affects his blood supply. He gets all of his oxygen from the placenta, which means that when the umbilical cord’s squeezed during a contraction, he receives slightly less oxygen. ‘It’s normal for your baby’s heart rate to drop a little bit after a contraction then go up again to compensate,’ explains Lucy.

How to help: Try to relax between contractions. There’ll be another one coming soon enough and you both need to rest while you can. Plus your body works much better when it’s relaxed. If you switch into ‘fight or flight’ mode, you’ll tense up and labour could come to a halt.
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3) Transition

Your baby will be a bit surprised the walls are caving in on him after encasing him peacefully for nine months, but he’s unlikely to be in pain. ‘The neural connections that lead a baby to interpret pain sensations as “pain” may not be developed during labour,’ says obstetrician Dr Anne Deans.

So, what exactly does a contraction feel like to your baby? ‘It may be what it feels like to squeeze through a tight space – the same as being compressed when you try to crawl under a fence,’ explains Dr Richard Auerbach, a neonatologist at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Florida.

How to help: Use gravity. ‘You don’t want your baby to be pushing uphill, which is what it’s like if you lie on your back,’ says Amanda. ‘It’s easier for you and your baby if you’re on all fours, either in a pool or on the bed.’
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4) Second stage

Your baby will be moving through the birth canal. The good news is that he’s well prepared for his journey into the outside world. ‘Because the plates of his skull aren’t fixed, it’s able to “mould” to the shape of the birth canal as he travels through it,’ says Anne. At this stage, your baby’s heart rate sometimes drops.

This can be because pressure on the umbilical cord is again reducing the blood flow from the placenta to your baby, which decreases his oxygen supply. Fortunately, babies have good reserves and are usually able to cope when this happens briefly. Your midwife will be closely monitoring his heartbeat and will intervene if necessary.

How to help: Focus on breathing rhythmically to maximise the amount of oxygen available to you and your baby. So don’t let the in-breath become longer than the out-breath.
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5) Delivery 

Your baby will be feeling a tight squeeze and getting ready to breathe.

‘The pressure on your baby’s body as he squeezes through the narrow birth canal is actually helpful in preparing him to live outside the uterus,’ says Anne. ‘This pushes fluid and mucus out from his lungs and also prevents him from inhaling fluid and blood as he passes through the birth canal. This all helps to prepare him to take his first breath.’

How to help: Listen carefully to your midwife. She might ask you to withhold some pushes to coordinate them with your breathing. This can prevent a tear in your perineum, which might happen if your baby comes too quickly, and will help him to be delivered smoothly.

Now read:

21 things no one tells you about labour (but a heads-up would have been nice!)

The three stages of labour and what to expect

Practice these seven exercises to make your labour easier


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