At the onset of a pregnancy, nearly every mom believes that she will at some point in the next 40 weeks, hopefully between 37 and 42 weeks, begin labor that will result in a vaginal delivery. While there can be reasons along the way that require a cesarean section to be performed, the vaginal birth remains the number one method for baby delivery, though in many countries cesarean section rates are approaching or even exceeding 50% of deliveries.
When the mother-to-be begins labor, she will often head off to the hospital. If the labor appears to be progressing, the obstetrician will admit mom to the hospital and the birthing changes to the body will begin.
At the onset of labor also known as the first stage, the cervix will be thinning (efface) and the baby's head will descend lower in the pelvis. The amniotic sac will often break signaling that the baby is ready to begin their descent down the birthing canal. This descent is the heart of the vaginal delivery.
In order for the vaginal delivery to progress more smoothly, the baby will preferably be positioned head down. A baby presenting feet or butt first (also known as breech) has increased risks and most doctors recommend a cesarean delivery or section if this happens.
The second stage begins once the cervix is open all the way (10 cm or fully dilated) the baby begins to move out of the womb and into the birthing canal, the pushing will begin.
When the woman feels the pressure of the baby moving down the birthing canal, she will feel a need to push. This pushing action, combined with the muscle contractions of the uterus will slowly move the baby down the birthing canal toward the opening of the vaginal. While many mothers and father simply do not understand the baby will fit through the canal, the female body is made to handle just this movement.
If the baby is too large for the vaginal opening or becomes stuck in the vaginal canal, an episiotomy may be performed. During the episiotomy, the obstetrician will make a small incision in the vaginal area to increase the size of the opening. A local anesthetic is often used to numb the area before incision. In some cases, the perineal or vaginal area will tear during the vaginal birthing process and will require stitches after the birth of the baby.
After the baby is birthed, the contractions are not over yet. This is when the third stage of labor begins and when the placenta will also have to move through the birthing canal and out of the vaginal opening. These last contractions can be the hardest and most painful of all, but once the placenta has detached and birthed, the vaginal birthing process will be over.
During a vaginal birth, the mother will be given the option to ease the pain of the birthing process with various anesthesia. Some mothers will choose to birth naturally while others will use an epidural or spinal anesthesia to ease the pain.
After a cesarean section, many mothers will be able to give birth to future babies vaginally. This is termed a vaginal birth after cesarean or VBAC. If you have undergone a previous c-section, talking to your doctor about the VBAC options will help prepare you for the future birth of your child.