From pain to labour positions: 8 things films get wrong about childbirth

Because delivering a baby is different for everyone

Katherine Heigl in 'Knocked Up', a film featuring one of the less convincing labour scenes
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The dash to the hospital, the excruciating pain and the doting mother who forgets everything the moment she sees her baby: these are merely a few of the childbirth scenes we've seen on screens.

But, as with anything in life, giving birth is different for everyone, and some of these well-versed scripts are actually doing more damage than good for a woman's psyche.

Here, we review a few of the most common incorrect depictions of what happens in the delivery room.

1. Labour isn’t that dramatic

The heroine’s water breaks with a flood in front of her co-stars, intense-sounding contractions commence and from then on it’s a mad rush to the hospital and the delivery room.

The moment Phoebe's water broke in 'Friends'
The moment Phoebe's water broke in 'Friends'

It simply doesn’t happen like that. In fact, you might not necessarily notice that your water has broken, your contractions might take hours to really kick in and you’re not considered to be in “active labour” until you’re four centimetres dilated. So, even if you do go to the hospital, you might be sent back home (mostly because we’re more comfortable progressing in our labour there, not because the midwives and doctors are trying to be mean).

From then on, it could take anywhere from an hour to 30-plus hours for baby to make his or her arrival.

2. Childbirth doesn’t have to be that painful

Bar the odd exception (such as Brooklyn Decker's rather serene birthing experience in What to Expect When You're Expecting), childbirth is made to look excruciatingly painful in films.

This common depiction has only gone on to feed the fears of women who have not yet given birth.

The thing is, people feel pain in myriad ways, so you never really know how you’re going to cope until you’ve been through it. Some ladies describe their sensations as bad period cramps, while others feel them more intensely.

What to Expect When You're Expecting Trailer
Brooklyn Decker playing a glowing, pregnant Skylar Cooper in 'What to Expect When You're Expecting'

What isn’t shown in the movies is that there are so many ways to mitigate pain, from learning breathing techniques via hypnobirthing to using a Tens machine and opting for medical solutions, such as an epidural (but there are also many other drug options in between).

There's no wrong approach. It's all about what works for you on the day.

3. It’s not that noisy

Along with the extreme pain, another common trope is the screaming woman pouring with sweat. It’s enough to put you off having a baby altogether.

Sure, you might find it helpful to make some noise as you help push your baby out, but the sounds are more likely to be low moans, roars and grunts than yelling at the top of your lungs (although if that works for you, then so be it). Plenty of women also deliver silently, humming or deeply breathing as they go along.

Again, you won't know what's more comfortable for you until you go through it.

4. Your husband isn’t the enemy

As our on-screen stars scream through contractions, they also tend to turn their attention to shouting at the nearby baby daddy.

While that might be the case for a few, in reality, most people will be relying on them, their birth partner, for support. You have far more important things to be focusing on than shouting at them, after all.

Plus, you’ll have plenty of oxytocin (the “love hormone”) coursing through your body at this point, not to mention calming endorphins. So the likelihood of you having a domestic in the delivery room is fairly slim.

5. There isn’t only one position for birth

The majority of films – arguably all big blockbusters – that include a birth scene show the woman lying on her back with her legs in stirrups. Yes, that’s one way to deliver your baby, but it’s not your only option.

You can also go on your hands and knees, lean on the bed, squat and get on a birthing ball, too.

Ellen Page as the titular character in 'Juno'
Ellen Page as the titular character in 'Juno'

Then, of course, there’s the water birth.

It depends on you – and, in the UAE, on your hospital's policies – as to what position you feel most comfortable in.

6. You don’t have to wear the hospital gown

Think back to every birth scene you’ve ever seen, and you’ll probably remember our celebrities donning that horrible hospital gown. It’s not a prerequisite, by the way; you can wear it if you really want to, but more often than not women will choose to wear soft, comfortable pyjamas and clothes that are familiar and beloved. Or they might even wear nothing. Again, it’s entirely up to you. Comfort is key.

7. You won’t have your ex-husband’s sister’s roommate there with you

Have you noticed how almost every other cast member in a film or TV series manages to make it to the birth?

Firstly, it’s highly unlikely that a woman would want that many people milling around her while she’s going through what’s likely to be the most important moment of her life. She’ll probably want as much privacy as she can get.

Secondly, as so many women go into labour overnight (thanks to something to do with melatonin levels), it’s also highly unlikely that people who are not particularly close to her would be dragging themselves out of bed to be there.

Normally, women will have one or two birth partners, plus any medical staff, in the room with her (if, like you have to in the UAE, she’s delivering at a hospital).

Visiting hours are reserved for after the birth (and post-pandemic).

8. You won't necessarily bond with your baby right away

Perhaps the most damaging stereotype is the woman who forgets everything she's just been through and lovingly looks on at her newborn baby.

Of course this is the case for many women, but it might not be.

You've just been through a lot to get him or her safely into this world, so if you don't feel a surge of love and bonding right away, that's OK. Don't feel guilty or like you're a bad mother (you have plenty of time for all that later, as they grow up!).

Go easy on yourself, give yourself time to adjust and you'll find those feelings will come flooding in sooner or later.

Then again, if you find any sadness or negative mood lingers past a couple of weeks after birth, you should talk to your doctor about the possibility of postnatal depression, which is common and treatable.