What to expect during a Vaginal Birth

What to expect during a Vaginal Birth

Pregnancy, labor, and delivery are unique experiences. As a pregnant woman, you want to be prepared ahead for childbirth. Delivering a baby is hard work, vaginal birth is a personal experience and even identical twins do not have the same experience. Unless otherwise stated by doctors, most women prefer to have a vaginal birth. After nine months of pregnancy, labor should be expected at any time. 

What is Vaginal Birth?

Vaginal birth is the birth type that involves the passage of the baby through the birth canal(vagina) and is the most common type of birth.

Though the baby has to pass through the birth canal in a vaginal birth, the process involved could be different.

Unassisted Vaginal Birth

Also referred to as spontaneous vaginal birth, is the type of vaginal birth where the mother goes into labor and the baby is delivered without the use of drugs for pain or techniques to induce labor or assist in the birth. The term natural birth is used to describe this.

Induced Vaginal Birth

It’s the type where drugs or other techniques are used to initiate the labor process. An example is an amniotomy where the doctor cuts into the amniotic sac to release the amniotic fluid. Contractions can also be initiated by the doctor by giving Picotin- a synthesized version of oxytocin hormone.

Assisted Vaginal Birth

This occurs when the mother goes into labor either initiated naturally, or medication and technique induced where special instruments like vacuum extractor or forceps are used to pull or guide the baby through the birth canal. It is also called Instrumental vaginal birth.

However, the way it happens, either natural, induced, or assisted, are all collectively referred to as Normal Vaginal Birth.

Signs of Labor

Signs of Labor

There are a couple of signs to indicate the start of labor. First is the onset of Contractions, this is the tightening and releasing of the uterus, a painful type of pressure on the wall of the uterus preparing the uterus for the detachment of the baby from the uterus. It is like having intense menstrual cramps, the pain starts from the back and moves around to the front of the stomach, although this can be false otherwise called Braxton Hicks Contractions. Doctors advise looking out for the 5-1-1 contractions before heading to the hospital. This is when each contraction occurs every five minutes, lasts for one minute, and has been happening for one hour. 

The second sign to indicate that labor has begun is the rupturing of the amniotic sac and the amniotic fluid is drained, this phenomenon is referred to as “water-breaking”. Amniotic fluid is a clear, colorless, and odorless liquid. Usually, your water will break before the delivery of the baby, if this does not happen, the doctor will perform an amniotomy where the amniotic membrane is artificially ruptured by the doctor.

Another indication that labor has begun is “the bloody show” which occurs when the pregnant mother passes a thick mucus discharge with hints of blood from the vagina. There is no principle to which has to happen or occur first as this sign varies from woman to woman.

Also, a woman can experience all of these signs before birth while some will experience just one or two. But usually “The show” is the sign that finally confirms that the woman is ready for delivery as contractions could be false and an indicator that something is wrong especially when the baby is not up to term. There could also be situations where the water breaks as a result of trauma like a sudden movement or impact to the stomach. If you experience any of these signs while your baby is not up to term, it’s advised to get to the hospital as fast as you can.

Experiencing any of these signs at full term is when to decide if you are going to the hospital or call your midwife if you have a home birth planned.

On getting to the hospital, the doctor or midwife would check for the dilation and effacement of the cervix. Dilation simply means opening up and this refers to how many centimeters the cervix is open to allow the birth of a baby. The cervix is like a bottle that connects the uterus to the vagina. It has to be open up to 10 centimeters to allow the birth of the baby. As this cervix dilates, the wall stretches and it thins out. This process is called effacement and is measured in percentage.  The vagina can be said to be fully dilated at 10cm.

Now the delivery can happen.

Stages of a Vaginal Birth

Stages of a Vaginal Birth

Delivery of the baby

This stage is initiated when the cervix is fully dilated and the baby’s head can be seen, this process is referred to as “crowning”. This is the time to start pushing the baby through the birth canal. Now is the time you need the support of your birth coach to motivate you through this process. The baby’s head is first delivered, followed by the rotation and delivery of the shoulders, then passage of the baby’s lower body and umbilical cord.

Placenta delivery

The hard work is done, the placenta needs to be delivered.  The placenta is responsible for nourishing the baby with nutrients through all nine months of pregnancy. First, the placenta will be detached from the uterine walls, you might feel contractions but not as severe as that of the baby birth. The placenta is also pushed out like the baby, mothers who are worn out in this stage can be assisted by the physician reaching in and pulling out the placenta. If the uterus is no longer contracting, Doctors also give oxytocin to initiate contractions again for the delivery of the placenta.  And just like that, it’s over.

Benefits of a Vaginal Birth

Vaginal Birth is a natural birth process that has a couple of benefits compared to cesarean section.

Vaginal Birth helps to avoid the risk of major surgery

Risks associated with a surgical process like a C-section are minimized or avoided in a vaginal birth. These risks include severe hemorrhaging, infections, reactions to anesthesia, amniotic fluid embolism, etc.

May prevent health problems in babies

The passage of a baby through the birth canal causes it to ingest beneficial bacteria that boost its immune system and strengthens gut health. Research has shown that babies born through vaginal Birth are less likely to be susceptible to health problems later on in life like asthma, food allergies, etc.

Reduces the risk of TTN in babies

Transient tachypnea in newborns is a breathing condition that occurs in newborns. In the womb, the baby’s lungs are filled with fluids, birth through the birth canal squeezes out most of these fluids. Failure to clear the lungs or slow clearing of these fluids usually results in TTN and is reduced with vaginal birth.

Increases the likelihood of breastfeeding

The process of vaginal birth releases hormones that enhance the flow of milk. The WHO recommends that babies should be breastfed within the first one hour of birth to enable them to derive colostrum. The feasibility of breastfeeding within the first one hour of birth is increased with vaginal birth. The ACOG also recommends that this is important for the mother and baby to bond.

Shorter stay at the hospital

Having a vaginal birth enables quick recovery and such mothers go home earlier than others. Also, the recovery period after vaginal delivery is shorter. 

Preparing for a Vaginal Birth

Create a birth plan

While your due date is approaching, it is important to create a birth plan and inform your medical team on certain preferences for your birth, birth postures, whether you want an epidural or not, who you want to present with you, etc.  One should keep an open mind about a birth plan to accommodate changes if things do not go as planned.

Recognize labor signs

This is so you’d be aware when labor starts and differentiate true labor from false labor to be able to get to the hospital on time.

Familiarize yourself with birthing positions

Read and know about the birth position, the doctors and midwives would have explained these during ante-natal appointments, practice to decide which would be most comfortable with you. Although you can practice your choice of birth, it’s advised to be open to other methods if things do not happen as planned.

Pack a bag

A hospital bag contains all the essentials you will be needing during your stay at the hospital for you and the baby. It should contain items for the mother such as nightgowns, toothbrushes, cosmetics, change of clothes, etc, and items for the baby like clothes, socks, diapers, etc. Some hospitals do provide all that is required but if you do have any personal items to take along, now is the time to pack.

While preparing for a vaginal birth it is important to be prepared for some risks that could come with this type of birth.

Risks of a Vaginal Birth

Risks of a Vaginal Birth

Vaginal Birth also has risks involved and they are:

Vaginal tears

A mother is at risk of getting the tissues of her vagina torn in a Vaginal birth especially if the baby is big. Doctors perform episiotomy when needed to prevent this tear. The risk of a vaginal tear is increased in first births.


A mother can experience urinary Incontinence for a few weeks after birth for forceps and vacuum-assisted births. Extreme tears to the vagina sometimes could lead up to the anus which could cause fecal Incontinence.


Vaginal birth increases the likelihood of serious Hemorrhaging which can lead to shock in the mother.

Vaginal Birth FAQs

What do I do if labor does not begin past my due date?

The gestation period for humans is 36 weeks, anything from that period to the 42nd week, labor and delivery should be expected. Speak with your doctor. If after 42 weeks you are not going into labor, the birth would have to be induced.

What is the recovery period after a  Vaginal Birth?

Healing and recovery after vaginal birth are dependent on several factors like the presence of perineal tears or if episiotomy was performed. 

Recovery averagely takes three to five weeks for non-complicated vaginal births. Complicated vaginal births have longer recovery periods.

I’ve had a Cesarean section before, can I still have a Vaginal birth?

Vaginal birth after Cesarean section is possible although several factors would be considered like age, how many C-sections you have had, the reason behind the C-section you had, the type of incision that was made during the surgery. Options for a VBAC should be discussed with your doctor.

What are the pain management options for a Vaginal Birth?

An epidural can be given during vaginal birth. It is a pain control agent given to numb and relieves pain during vaginal birth. However, the pressure from contractions can still be felt with an epidural.

Childbirth is a  beautiful experience and should be embraced with joy.

While you may want a vaginal part, the risks and your options should be thoroughly discussed with your doctor/midwife.

How long does a Vaginal birth take?

The duration of vaginal birth is dependent on factors like if the Mother is a first-time mom or has had previous birth(s) or an elderly primigravida. It takes about 12-16 hours in FTMs and 6-8 hours in moms who have experienced previous births.

The durational difference between the last birth and the current is also a factor that can influence the duration of a Vaginal birth.


Pre-birth hygiene before a Vaginal delivery is important. It is recommended that the public hair be shaved to prevent the baby from getting an infection or coming in contact with harmful bacteria.

Some women may feel lonely, withdrawn, and sad after birth, detachment from their baby, the aftermath of a complicated vaginal birth can lead to PTSD or post-partum depression. 

Speak with your doctor if you are experiencing any of these feelings to get help from a professional.