Photo: Malte Mueller (Getty Images)
Hello, Offspring! I am back from maternity leave. We had our second child, a boy named Max. It has been the best! It has been the worst! My brain constantly teeters between thoughts of “How did I ever live in a world without this baby?” and “Who thought this would be a good idea again?!” (It’s mostly the former, though. I’m smitten with the kid.)
I’ll have much to share from the trenches of newbornland, but for now, I will start where it all began—on a hospital bed with spotlights shining down on my vagina. For all the women out there about to give birth, I am here to confirm the effectiveness of the classic advice: Push like you’re taking a huge, blazing poop.
When I was pregnant with my first child, like every terrified new mom-to-be, I was determined to do whatever I could to have the best delivery possible. So I hired a birth doula, listened to hypnobirthing mp3s every night (“you are opening like a flower,” the woman chanted) and practiced breathing away my anxieties. During labor, I tried about 17 different birthing positions—squatting, getting down on all fours, pulling on a sheet twisted into a rope, and standing in the shower and whimpering. Pushing out my baby took five hours. By hour 4.5, I begged for any possible tool that could help extract the newborn out of my body (a vacuum? a machete?).
This time around, after being reminded of the imagine-you’re-pooping advice by a friend, I thought of that and only that. I pretended to poop. The baby popped out in less than 10 minutes.
Of course, this is simply my personal tale—every body is different and there are many factors that contribute to how babies ultimately arrive. Any way that you safely give birth is a very good way. It’s also worth noting that first-time moms typically have longer deliveries from start to finish—the first stage of labor usually lasts about 12 to 13 hours for a first baby versus 7 to 8 hours for a second.
Still, it is a good image to start with for vaginal deliveries, all due to the natural physiology of birth. Here’s a video depicting a baby’s head descending and pushing on the rectum. “When you’re pushing a poop out, you’re using the same muscles that you push a baby out with,” says Marianne Ryan, a New York-based physical therapist and board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist. “It’s basically the same mechanism.” She says the visualization can be especially helpful if you have an epidural, as you may not be able to feel your muscles.
As for the shared fear of pooping actual poop, this is something you must push past, literally. It may very well happen. (When I asked my husband if it happened to me, he responded “definitely!” which I’ll translate as “probably not.”) Many childbirth experts say they’re happy when they see poop because it means the woman is pushing correctly.
There you go. Forget opening like a flower and push like you’re pooping. It works. Pass it on.