“I had no idea!”: Unrealistic Expectations for Pregnancy, Birth, and Baby

unrealistic expectations

There’s a common theme that I hear over and over and over: parents experience a huge disconnect between what they expect versus reality, and they find that very upsetting, irritating, and frustrating. Some of these unrealistic expectations are deeply ingrained into our popular narrative about what it means to become parents. This narrative is reinforced by fictional portrayals of pregnancy, birth, and parenting, and large commercial forces exist to profit off of these. It’s time to change that. And while there may be the rare case where these assumptions and intentions are met, those situations are not the norm. So, listed below, are seven of the most common scenarios I run across:

1) Your prenatal visits will have lots of time to answer all of your questions and are enough to teach you everything you need to know about giving birth. Prenatal visits can last anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes or more, and are entirely clinic and provider specific. In high-volume clinics, short appointments are not uncommon. Additionally, a recent study found that many moms did not fully understand what their doctors or midwives were telling them.

2) The care provider you saw during pregnancy will be there during birth. Depending on the provider’s specialty and practice structure (Individual, small group, large group), you’re most likely to be at the mercy of their call rotation schedule. With the exception of the practices that work on a rotating call basis with care providers at the hospital or birth center during an entire shift, or if they happen to have a chance to pop in earlier, you won’t see a doctor or midwife until you’re pushing–and then, who shows up may be a surprise.

3) A nurse will be there to help guide an support you through the entire birth. First of all, a nurse’s primary job is to keep tabs on the health and well-being of baby and mom throughout the labor. They are also required to document heartbeats, blood pressures, temperatures, cervical checks, etc. And while in many cases,  best practice is to have staffing ratios that allows for one nurse to be taking care of one mom in active labor, some hospitals are more likely to have much lower staffing ratios; some Twin Cities hospitals have one nurse for every 2 or 3 mom in labor.

4) An epidural is guaranteed to work (and everyone can have one). Not all women are able to have epidurals– and your doctor or midwife may not catch that ahead of time. Also, epidurals only work perfectly about 80% of the time. No matter what your goals for pain medication are, it’s good to know about other options–just in case.

5) Having a birth plan is enough communication of your preferences. Birth time is NOT battle time. While you are in labor, you don’t need to be using that time to negotiate over the things that are important to you. While nobody knows what your birth will be like, you need to go over your preferences with your doctor or midwife. They should be willing to listen to your concerns and what’s important to you. If they are dismissive or tell you what you want won’t matter, it’s time to think about finding a provider who will be flexible (as you should be, too) to wait until labor unfolds.

6) You won’t need any postpartum help. A new baby is way more overwhelming than most people expect. The baby takes a lot of care and attention, and mom will need 2-4 weeks to really recover from birth, so everything else can quickly get out of hand. Groceries need bought, food needs made, dishes need to get done, laundry needs washed, etc., etc., etc. Ask for help! If you can’t coordinate help via friends, family, coworkers, or church community, then consider hiring a postpartum doula.

7) Your baby’s doctor will help you achieve your breastfeeding goals. The reality is, very few pediatricians covered breastfeeding for more than a few hours in med school. They don’t often seek out breastfeeding education after they start practicing, either. When you take the lack of knowledge base, a common desire to be able to measure every single thing, including how much a baby is eating, and an inherent distrust in the ability of women’s bodies, it’s no wonder so many women give up breastfeeding at the direction of the pediatrician. Some providers so have a passion for breastfeeding, so choose that doctor or nurse practitioner very, very carefully.

Those were the ones I came up with. What else did I miss?




Veronica Jacobsen, BA, CLC, CPST, LCCE, FACCE
Birth Doula, Certified Lactation Counselor, Child Passenger Safety Technician, Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, Fellow of the Academy of Certified Childbirth Educators

Opening BabyLove in September of 2011 has allowed me to build a space where all families can come to get good information in a caring, welcoming environment. I have found that not only do I love teaching more than ever, but I also really love running a business. Hopefully my passion for every aspect of BabyLove shines through.
I live in Richfield with my husband, and I am a mother of a two great children. When I can steal a few free moments, I love to go on adventures with my family, cook, garden, thrift, can, and craft.

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