What to expect from the birth

Common emotions after childbirth include elation, exhaustion, relief, a sense of achievement and pride – after all, you’ve just brought a new tiny human into the world!

But if the birth is different to how you’d hoped or imagined – harder, longer or more painful, for example – you might end up feeling distressed or disappointed.

Things to keep in mind 

There is no one ‘right’ way to give birth, it's different for everyone and things often don’t go according to plan. Parents don’t always instantly fall in love with their baby – it may take some time after the birth (especially after a very long or difficult birth) and it’s very common to feel emotional and overwhelmed. 

Everyone will have an opinion on the best way to do things – from friends, family and colleagues to strangers in the supermarket. While information and advice can be useful, make sure you’re doing what’s right for you and what you feel comfortable with.

Everyone, from people at work to strangers down the street were offering their expert advice on pregnancy and motherhood and how you ‘should’ feel.

Birth can be difficult 

There are other factors that can make birth more difficult, including: 

  • complications during pregnancy and/or when giving birth
  • the birth involves more medical intervention, pain or time than you expected
  • your baby arrives late or early, especially if it is very premature and needs to stay in a neonatal intensive care unit
  • you don’t feel supported or acknowledged, or feel that no one listened to you during the birth
  • ·not being able to access culturally sensitive services or welcome your baby in the traditional way
  • you have more than one baby
  • problems with your baby’s health
  • not feeling an immediate bond with your baby. 

Emotional responses following the birth — the ‘baby blues’

As well as the range of emotions you’re likely to experience during or following the birth, many women get the ‘baby blues’ in the first few days after childbirth. Signs of the baby blues include being teary, irritable or oversensitive in your interactions with others, and having lots of mood changes. The baby blues are not the same thing as postnatal depression and usually disappear within a few days without treatment, other than support and understanding. If these feelings don’t go away after a couple of weeks, it may be a sign of something more serious – like depression or anxiety – and if so, you may need treatment.

Dealing with the unexpected

Regardless of how much you’ve prepared and thought ahead, sometimes things don’t go to plan. It’s not uncommon for women to need an emergency caesarean or have labour induced if there are risks to their health or that of the baby.

This can come as a shock, and some women find the experience traumatic. If this happens to you, it’s helpful to acknowledge your feelings and talk things through with someone you trust or a health professional.

Advice on looking after yourself after a caesarean

If your baby is premature or has health complications, they may need to spend time in hospital. This can be an extremely distressing situation for any new parent, and it’s important to look after your mental health at this time. Many hospitals have dedicated support services for families – make sure you take advantage of any support that’s offered, and ask what else is available to help you.

Maintaining culture and connections

Local health services and community groups may be able to help with traditional practices and continuing rituals around pregnancy and birth. For example, some communities hold welcome baby to country ceremonies. Some hospitals also provide culturally sensitive birth services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their families, as well as families from other cultural backgrounds. These can help by linking you with support, care and advice. Check with your local services about what’s available in your area, and be clear about what you need to happen during and after the birth.

It’s important to ensure you have enough support during labour – if your community views giving birth as ‘women’s business’, this might include a female Elder, Aunty or relative, or someone from your community.

The experience for partners

Partners of women giving birth can find it an intense experience too. It can make you feel more attached to your partner and baby, but it can be difficult seeing your partner in pain and feeling helpless to stop it.

Here are some examples of common reactions by partners.

“Anxious and exhausting – I would not have missed it for the world.” “It was hard seeing my partner in pain, but I’m glad I could be there to support her.”

“I felt helpless and a little guilty that she had to go through this.”

“When I cut the cord, I felt so closely connected to my partner and daughter.”

Key messages for partners preparing for the birth

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