5 Things I Incorrectly Learned From the Movies About Having a Baby

By  · Published on September 1st, 2014

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

The other day, a pregnant friend said she was scared of giving birth after watching Friends With Kids. In that movie, Jennifer Westfeldt’s character is in a lot of pain during labor, despite having an epidural (drugs). Being an expert, I guess, having just experienced the birth of my second kid, I told her to relax. Sure, some women still feel some pressure during delivery, but for the most part it’s all numb down there. That is the point of paying thousands of dollars to get it.

I only recently saw Friends With Kids for the first time myself, and I was surprised that such a stereotypical birth scene was made this decade. Especially for how otherwise aware it was. Adam Scott’s character at least addresses the epidural by name, but for the most part the scene is wrong, including the stuff involving episiotomy (I’ll let you look that one up). Westfeldt, who also wrote and directed, has never had children, but that shouldn’t have mattered.

A lot of people who know better than to trust how movies depict things, like labor and delivery, can’t help but “learn” from them anyway. I’m one of them. Growing up on movies, I’ve tended to get at least a first impression of a lot of stuff from how it’s written for and shown on screen. Even if I’m skeptical, much of the time I don’t know any better. Having a baby isn’t something we experience firsthand everyday. So, when I did actually experience it, I was surprised by how much of what I “knew” was incorrect.

Over the weekend, for shits and giggles, I watched some of Look Who’s Talking for the first time in almost 25 years. Everything in that enormous hit from 1989, which I enjoyed as an ignorant child, steered me wrong. So did many other movies. Here are five things that I expected to happen (before all the preparatory reading and classes) when my wife went into labor, but didn’t:

1. Labor is an emergency — Every pregnancy movie has to have the mad dash to the hospital, because it’s dramatic and/or hilarious with a touch of action. It’s a chance to have something like a car chase in the middle of a rom-com. But especially with the first child, labor is never a rush let alone an emergency situation where speeding to the delivery room is necessary. Even if your water breaks before you have any contractions, your doctor will tell you to get to the hospital soon, but not so immediately that you might get into an accident on the way. And then you’ll still likely take as many as 24 hours before your baby is born.

2. It’s possible for multiple deliveries to happen in the same room at the same time — Maybe in some poor areas women have to give birth in a communal space, but that wouldn’t be the case for a middle-class couple such as Hugh Grant and Julianne Moore’s characters in Nine Months. Not even if there’s a full moon and somehow every pregnant woman registered at their hospital is in labor at the same time. Again, this somewhat has to do with the misconception that birth is extremely quick. And if a hospital was so awful as theirs seems to be, particularly when it comes to privacy, they wouldn’t have enough patients to fill a single delivery room, let alone overcrowd them.

3. I wear scrubs during delivery — Ever since dads were allowed in delivery rooms, they’ve been shown wearing scrubs there in movies. But this isn’t necessary nor common in hospitals. The dad and whomever else of his family and friends is invited into the room can wear street clothes. Even if they’re going to touch the mom or baby. Even if they’re involved in helping out with the delivery. It’s not an operation, after all. Unless it is: the time when a dad would need to wear scrubs is if there’s a c-section birth, because that’s open surgery. I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed that this part wasn’t true.

4. Birthing is all about breathing — One of my biggest surprises is that we didn’t have to take the stereotypical Lamaze class I’d seen in countless TV shows and movies. First of all, Lamaze isn’t simply a breathing technique. Second of all, it’s not a universally standard method. Third of all, it’s mainly for natural childbirth. I don’t think Lamaze classes were ever even an option for my family. Instead we had a simple instructional class, a one-time appointment. Breathing, as involved in the Lamaze technique, is certainly more visually and aurally interesting than any other part of that or different methods, so that’s probably why it’s gotten so much play in scenes dealing with pregnancy and then delivery. Plus, to have something practiced and then later executed is a good way for a setup and punchline of a gag.

5. Once the kid is out, the procedure is done – I’m no fool. I knew that just-born babies in movies look too old and too clean. You can’t easily hire a day-old kid as an actor, and you don’t want to show a lot of afterbirth and blood and such because your audience doesn’t want to see it. But I will admit to never realizing there was so much left to do once the kid is delivered. He’s not just going to get slapped on the ass (not that that happened either), have the umbilical cord cut, wrapped up and placed on Mom’s chest and then everyone’s out of the room and onto to the next patient. There’s no reason a movie has to show all the cleaning and measuring and testing of vitals, etc., but they don’t need to give off the impression that everything is so quick, either.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.