As a certified nurse midwife, I take a lot of time with my women to explore the challenges they’ve overcome in their lives and to channel that energy if they face obstacles during pregnancies, labor and birth. I have them go back to their power. I want their mind to shift from thinking “Birth is going to be really difficult” to “This is challenging, but wow—this is incredibly empowering. I can do this!”

As providers, we need to strive to have close relationships with our patients. If that’s not necessarily possible, then we must at least be intuitive and listen well. I work with women and hear what they say, paying close attention to the language they use.

Here are 6 questions I often get from women about their mothers’ experiences with labor and birth

1. My mother had complications during labor. Will I have them, too?

She’s your mother and you love her, but you don’t need to unconsciously re-create her birth story—especially if it was a difficult birth. Our minds are very powerful, and we can cleverly re-create the trauma our own mothers experienced. But your mother’s birth(s) had to do with what was going on in her day-to-day life at the time—what her health was like, her relationship with her doctor, what was going on in her personal life, etc.

If your mom has mentioned that she experienced complications, ask her exactly what they were and what possibly caused them. It’s not enough for her to tell you, “This happened to me.” You have to ask her specific questions.

Related: 6 expert tips on how to prepare for your first birth

Let’s start with one example. If your mother had preterm labor, will you?

Well, what was her amniotic fluid like at the time she went into preterm labor? What was her stress level? Was she working a job that required her to be on her feet 40 hours a week? That can certainly trigger preterm labor. There are specific reasons why your mother had the complications she did, and it doesn’t mean you will, too.

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2. My mother had a C-section. Will I have one?

So many women have asked me this question. The answer is no, not necessarily. Do you and your mother have the same body type? Is your mother 5 feet tall and your father 6 feet tall? Did your mom have a baby who weighed 10 pounds?

A situation when the baby’s head circumference may be too big for the diameter of the mother’s pelvis size and shape is called cephalopelvic or fetopelvic disproportion. If this occurs and a baby is unable to descend through the pelvis due to a narrowing of the mid-pelvis or pelvic outlet, then a medically indicated C-section is appropriate.

There are four types of pelves, but we often see a mixture of characteristics. So even if you have the same type of pelvis as your mom, the size and position of your baby will be unique for you—so you can understand how we can’t let your mom’s delivery outcome predict yours.

Related: Recovering from a C-section? What you need to keep in mind, mama

Many women ask me whether their pelvis is an adequate size. Forty-one to 42% of women have a gynecoid pelvis, with diameters quite optimal for vaginal childbirth. An extremely narrow pelvis, also referred to as male or android, where the front of the pelvis is narrow (about 32.5% of white and 15.7% of nonwhite women have this type) does make it more difficult for a good-size baby to navigate through. The rare platypelloid pelvis, which occurs in less than 3% of women, is characterized by a wide front diameter and shallow depth from front to back. It makes a vaginal delivery unlikely. The good news is that labor and birth are about movement, and babies are resilient, with heads designed to mold through delivery.

When the health care provider understands the mother’s pelvic size and structure as well as the baby’s position and size, the timing of labor and repositioning the mother in a knee-chest or left side-lying position can make all the difference in assisting the baby through.

A woman needs to labor and be pushing for several hours to determine whether the baby is unable to emerge under the pubic arch. This is definitely a subject to discuss with your health care provider. It is difficult to know all the circumstances of your mother’s C-section that contributed to her outcome.

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3. Can I prevent any of the complications my mother experienced?

Yes. Make sure you’re eating well, staying hydrated and communicating openly and often with your health care provider. I also recommend seeing a chiropractor to make sure your pelvis is aligned. This gives the baby more room to move and adjust.

I had a woman transfer to me late, at 33 weeks—her baby was high and she wasn’t doing any exercise. I recommended she visit a chiropractor regularly. And sure enough, when the time came, she had a three-hour labor where her baby descended nicely.

Related: Birth plan basics

4. Can my sister’s birth experiences tell me anything about what mine will be like?

Yes. Not necessarily physically, but psychologically.

I had a client in labor who kept saying things like, “I can’t believe it, I know I’m going to need a C-section.” I looked at her and asked her why she was talking out of such fear. It all finally clicked and I said, “This isn’t you you’re talking about, is it?” And she told me it was her sister she was talking about. She was subconsciously taking on her sister’s negative birth experience as her own. So I worked with her in labor to guide her through extreme birth counseling.

When we talked about her relationship with her sister, I learned she didn’t even like her sister’s ideas about birth. So I asked what made her different from her sister. She said she was holistic, and her sister was not. I asked her to repeat after me—“I am holistic. I am not my sister.” And that is what her birth mantra became.

With this mantra she was able to validate that she was different from her sister, and just because her sister had Pitocin and then a C-section didn’t mean that she had to have it too. She did have Pitocin to augment her contractions, which had spaced out, but I helped turn the face-up baby and then she had a beautiful vaginal birth.

Related: 4 simple things you can do to have a better hospital birth

This could happen with any woman you’re close to—your mother, mother-in-law, sister, sister-in-law, best friend, etc. That’s why it’s so important to have the right provider guiding you.

5. My mother/mother-in-law had big babies. Could that determine my baby’s size?

While there could be some genetic connection for large gestational size babies, what I really believe is that your mother or mother-in-law could have been eating lots of carbs or foods high in sugar, and she might have had undiagnosed gestational diabetes. You have to know your clients, and quite often I have to be a sneaky detective to find out what she’s eating.

But keep in mind: I would much rather deliver a 9-pound, 5-ounce baby than a 6-pound, 5-ounce baby. Bigger babies are often well positioned—they don’t get into unusual positions that could cause complications. For example, a smaller baby can spin around during labor and cause a longer labor, and if you’re in a more conservative hospital or have a more traditional health care practitioner, they may not let you wait around to progress from 4 cm to 8 cm and instead suggest a C-section. But it all comes down to understanding fetal positioning.

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6. What questions should I ask my mother?

I always ask the women I work with: What messages has your mother given you about birth? Does she talk openly about it?

If you’re pregnant and your mother seems to be avoiding talking about her own pregnancies, it’s likely for one of these reasons: She had a traumatizing experience; it’s just her nature not to share; or she doesn’t want to interfere because she doesn’t want to scare you.

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Related: Becoming Mama

If you’d like to talk to your mother about her birth experiences, here are a few questions to review:

Reflect on personally:

—Do I have the same pelvis as my mother?

—Do I have the same build as my mother?

—How do I differentiate myself from my mom and/or my sister(s)?

Discuss with mom:

—What was the position of your baby? Was I/were my siblings face-up or posterior?

—Did you have a C-section? Do you know why?

—Were you stressed during your pregnancy and/or labor? What was going on in your life at the time?

—How much weight did you gain during your pregnancies?

—Do you remember the name of who delivered me?

—How long did you push?

If you have fears that aren’t alleviated by talking with the women close to you and reflecting personally, talk about them with your health care provider or find a therapist who specializes in pregnancy. If you don’t talk about your fears, they can surface during labor and delivery and possibly sabotage your birth experience. A prepared birth is best.

What about my grandmother’s pregnancy experiences?

When we look into our grandmother’s pregnancy experiences, we open a treasure chest of family history and wisdom. But remember, just like with your mother’s stories, your grandmother’s experiences don’t script yours. Her pregnancy journey unfolded in a different era, shaped by distinct medical practices and societal expectations.

Think about the times in which she was pregnant. Were prenatal appointments as common? What were the prevailing attitudes toward pain relief or home births? These historical contexts can illuminate how her experiences were shaped and differ from today’s standards.

Engage in conversations with your grandmother or family members about her pregnancies. What challenges did she face? How did she feel? Were there traditions or beliefs that influenced her experience? These stories not only deepen your family connections but also enrich your understanding of your own pregnancy journey.

While absorbing these tales, reflect on the advancements and changes in maternal healthcare. Appreciate how each generation has contributed to a richer, more informed family narrative around childbirth.

However, while these stories are invaluable, they should inform, not constrain, your pregnancy experience. You live in a different time, with access to updated medical care and knowledge. Use these stories as wisdom passed down, not as a prophecy of what your pregnancy will be.

By incorporating your grandmother’s experiences, you’re not just carrying forward a legacy; you’re also framing your unique chapter in an ongoing family saga. Embrace this as part of your preparation, acknowledging that while history can guide us, it doesn’t define us. Your pregnancy is your own unique journey, enriched but not encumbered by the past.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will I have the same labor as my mom?

Not necessarily. While genetics can influence labor aspects, many factors, including health and environment, also play significant roles.

Am I more likely to deliver early if my mom did?

There’s a possibility. Family history can impact pregnancy, but it’s not a definite predictor. Always discuss your personal risks with a healthcare provider.

Do genetics play a role in labor?

Yes, genetics can influence certain aspects of labor, such as duration and the likelihood of needing a C-section. However, each labor is unique.

What is the average labor for a first-time mom?

For first-time moms, labor often lasts between 12 to 18 hours, but it can vary widely.

What is the average time a first-time mom goes into labor?

Most first-time moms go into labor between 37 and 42 weeks of pregnancy. The exact timing varies.

What is the longest labor ever recorded?

The longest labor ever recorded was 75 days. However, this is extremely unusual and not typical for most pregnancies.

What is the most common week to go into labor?

The most common week for labor to start is around the 40th week of pregnancy. But it can range from week 37 to week 42.

What triggers the start of labor?

The exact trigger is unknown, but it’s believed to involve a combination of hormonal changes and physical factors like the baby’s size and the condition of the uterus and cervix.

A version of this article was published November 17, 2016. It has been updated.