The biggest surprises about labor and delivery revealed.

The big day is full of surprises. But there are ways you can prepare yourself for the unexpected. Here’s how to prepare for delivery, based on what moms who’ve been there say they wish they had known beforehand.

You can never know exactly what will happen during your unique labor and delivery. But preparing for childbirth and educating yourself beforehand can manage your expectations and ready you for your new arrival. Here’s what many moms say they wish they had known before labor and delivery.

Birth Surprises: Preparing for Childbirth Ahead of the Big Day

The start of labor isn’t the same for every woman.

On TV, it looks so easy—there’s a gush of water, a frantic drive to the hospital, a few pushes, and the baby is born. Part of learning how to prepare for delivery is separting the fact from fiction and realizing that it's not always like it is on TV. In reality, it can be a bit trickier. In fact, for some women, it’s hard to tell false labor from the real deal.

  • Water breaking: For some women, their water breaking is the first sign that the birthing process has begun. It can be a gush of water, like on TV, but for other women, however, it’s a trickle. In some cases, it can be hard to tell the difference between amniotic fluid and urine. Your best bet? Call your doctor. Tell her you’re unsure if your water just broke but describe any odor or the color of the liquid. She’ll probably have you come in for an exam. On the other hand, your water may not break until a health-care provider helps it along at the hospital.
  • Contractions: Telling the difference between Braxton-Hicks and true labor contractions can be confusing. Generally, true contractions have a regular pattern and last for 30 to 70 seconds. But your doctor is only a phone call away if you need to consult.

Labor is a journey.

The first stage of labor—when you’re dealing with contractions but not ready to push—can last from 12 to 19 hours. Remember, it may be a slow process, but there are things you can do to make it easier:

  • Take a bath (with your doctor’s OK, if your water broke) or a shower.
  • Go for a walk
  • Change positions when you start to feel uncomfortable.
  • Try to breathe during contractions.
  • Have someone roll a tennis ball (with some pressure) on your lower back to relieve any pain.
  • Rock on a rocking chair or birthing ball.
  • Use music to help you relax.

Above all, remember that your baby isn’t on a schedule—sometimes slow and steady is best. As long as he is safe, your health-care team will let him call the shots.

Your body will need a little time to bounce back.

  • After you deliver your baby, you might experience a few unexpected things.
  • Afterpains: You might have afterpains for a few days. It’s your uterus contracting. You may feel it most strongly when you’re nursing or if you’re taking medication to reduce bleeding. Don’t worry; it’s normal and should go away in a few days.
  • Heavy vaginal discharge: You’ll get what seems like a very heavy period after giving birth, and the blood may contain small clots. Contact your doctor, however, if you have a foul-smelling discharge, soak more than one sanitary pad in an hour, pass clots larger than a golf ball, or have a fever of 100.4 degrees F or higher.
  • Hot and cold: Your body is adjusting to new blood and hormone levels; this can make you feel either sweaty or chilled.
  • Leakage: It’s not uncommon for some urinary incontinence to occur, especially after a prolonged labor. It might happen when you sneeze, cough, or laugh.
  • Weight: You might be surprised that you don’t lose all the baby weight after having your little one. You’ll probably lose about 13 pounds (which includes the weight of the baby, amniotic fluid, and placenta). Over the next week or so, you’ll lose water weight, too.

But once all the work is done, the best surprise may be how perfect your baby is to you.