When you wipe away the romantic veneer of bringing a new human into the world, you’re met with blood, sweat, and tears (of all kinds), for many hours. But few women will get into specifics of the messiness of childbirth because it makes for stomach-churning chitchat.
While it’s not pleasant to discuss, it’s important to be aware of the grime that comes with birth to help fortify your grittiness: an essential ingredient to pushing a human out of your vagina.
So, I’m going to be your inappropriate girlfriend and fill you in on the gross stuff that happens during birth and all the ickiness you can expect from vaginal birth:
Warning: This article is not to be paired with a meal.
1. You’ll probably start to smell pretty ripe.
You sweat when you exert your body or feel strong emotions, and because childbirth is rich with both occurrences, your sweat glands will become overachievers, causing you to sweat out of pores you never knew existed. And the abundance of sweat coming out of these pores will produce a potent cocktail of stink, especially if you weren’t able to shower before labor kicked into high gear.
You likely won’t care what you smell like during birth, but if it starts to bug you, wipe your armpits with a wet washcloth and apply deodorant. An essential oil diffuser is another great way to mask birth odors.
2. There will be plentiful multi-colored fluids coming out of you.
Birth often causes a rainbow of liquids to appear from your neither regions. You should expect blood, urine, amniotic fluid, a mucous plug, discharge, and meconium (if your baby has a bowel movement in the womb) to come out of your vagina at some point during labor.
These fluids are one of the many reasons it pays to have a tribe of supporters (e.g., birth doula, midwife, nurse, or another care provider) who will wipe away these goodies before you get the chance to have a look.
3. You might vomit on yourself.
If you had a meal before birth began, be prepared for a bit of (or a lot of) that nourishment to reappear. If you’re in a hospital, there are plastic bags provided purely for the purpose of vomit catching, and for a home or hospital birth, it’s always a good idea to have a bowl, trash bin, or bag handy. Although vomiting is never a pleasant endeavor, know that it can be a natural component of birth.
4. The pregnancy glow will be replaced with childbirth splotches.
Photos taken of me the day before I went into labor portrayed a glowing goddess; photos post-delivery portrayed a splotchy and bloated-faced mother. I looked happier than I’ve ever seen myself in those post-delivery photos, but the appearance of my skin left something to be desired.
Your body will go through so much during labor you may discover fresh pimples, burst blood vessels, and other varieties of discolored skin when you peer in the mirror after labor. Be gentle with yourself and know that a shower, water, sleep, and baby cuddles will revive your glow.
5. If you have a water birth, there will probably be poop particles floating around.
I’ve had many clients who were going to have a home or birth center birth inquire about the small net that came with their birth kit. This net is to catch poop floating in the water.
Poop happens during birth, and while this poop is easy to wipe away when you’re on dry land, it becomes trickier to make it disappear when you’re in the water. Although the net catches the bulk of the fecal matter there will be remnants.
Yes, this is a gross byproduct of water birth, but the relief water offers your birthing muscles and perineum far outweigh the yuck-factor of some poop particles you won’t even be aware of.
6. Your baby will come out covered in goo.
Babies arrive coated in a layer of vernix (cheese-like white substance), blood, and amniotic fluid. Although that tiny baby body will be the most glorious thing you’ve ever seen, it can still be jarring to see them caked in the birth fluid.
Many care providers jump to wipe the baby off ASAP, but because the vernix has antibacterial properties and can help heal wounds, it might be in the baby’s best interest for you to delay the wiping and allow their skin to naturally absorb the vernix.
7. Your placenta will be equal parts fascinating and disgusting.
Having the ability to grow an organ is pretty freaking amazing. When this organ is presented for your preview, I recommend taking a peek, but it’s also disgusting to view an organ that just slid out your vagina.
Because this will be your only chance to view the body part that was custom made for your baby, try to look past its gory appearance and instead see it as the life-giving miracle it is. (And then sure, you can turn your head and gag.)
Birth may be grimy, but you have the grit to get through it, mama! Once you understand all the gross stuff that happens during birth, steel your nerves, and step into birth knowing that when (not if!) you make it to the other side of birth, you’ll be a certified badass.
Bailey Gaddis is a mother who writes about parenting and family. She has been featured in Babble, Elephant Journal, Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Woman’s Day, Good Housekeeping, and Scary Mommy. Follow her on Twitter.