Two weeks before the birth of my second child, I woke in the middle of the night in a panic. Almost nine months had gone by without more than a passing thought of the labor and delivery of this child. Three years earlier, after five hours of labor (and at four centimeters dilated), I received an epidural for the birth of my daughter. I vowed that next time I wouldn't wait so long! I was about to surprise myself.
"As humans, everything is filtered through with our past experiences," says Amy Schroder, RNC and Parent Education Coordinator at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut. "Moms expect [labor and delivery] will be shorter and easier the next time around." Generally, second childbirths do tend to be faster and easier. "Statistics show that the first labor, which includes your first contraction to the delivery of the baby, is usually 12 to 14 hours. The second time it can happen in six to eight hours," says Schroder.
But like babies, every childbirth experience is different. "Never make assumptions," says Janelle Durham, MSW, Doula and Education Director for Great Starts Birth and Family Education Center in Seattle, Washington. When we expect the same thing, we can make it harder on ourselves if the outcome is different. Chances are that this experience will be different—maybe easier, maybe not; maybe shorter, maybe not.
The Three Ps
There are many factors that can make a subsequent childbirth experience different—some of which we have no control over. Schroder refers to these factors as the three Ps of childbirth—power, passage, and passenger.
Passage is the reproductive tract, which includes the birth canal and all the structures. "With the first pregnancy, there is a lot of resistance in the passage because no baby has ever passed though here before," says Schroder.
Yet the body may react differently the second or third time around. "Your body has done this before," says Durham, explaining why subsequent births can be easier.
Passenger refers to your baby. It's not just a matter of size, however. The baby's position is important in determining how long and how easy a labor is. If the back of the baby's head is pressing on the mother's tailbone instead of facing upward, the mother will experience back labor. "Back labor is very painful, can take much longer, and up to 15 percent of women can have back labor," says Schroder.