A vaginal birth may just be the light at the end of your pregnancy tunnel (a c-section can be, too—it all depends on what your needs and preferences are). Knowing what your options are ahead of time can help you feel empowered when the big day arrives.
Ready? Let’s have the conversation.
Vaginal delivery FAQs
For starters, what is vaginal birth exactly? Well, it’s all about your baby’s exit strategy, and in this case, they’re coming through your birth canal.
U.S. data shows that just under 70% of births are done by vaginal delivery. Here’s why it’s a good option for many:
Benefits of vaginal birth
Benefits for your baby include:
An increased likelihood of developing a stronger immune system and a decreased likelihood of developing allergies. This might be because you pass good gut bacteria to your little one during vaginal birth, and this kick starts your baby’s immune system. (Check out this study for more on this.) Hormones that are released during vaginal delivery likely also play a part.
And the benefits for you are:
Recovery time and hospital stays tend to be shorter, making it easier for you to get to the task of parenting a newborn.
Breastfeeding may be easier, happen sooner, and go on for longer. (See this study.)
Fertility and future pregnancies may be positively influenced. (Have a look at this study for all the details.)
C-section vs vaginal birth
Although vaginal birth has many benefits, it’s not without its risks. Some of the most common of these are:
Perineal tears. Your vagina and the area that surrounds it can tear during vaginal delivery. Sometimes, the doctor will perform an episiotomy (an incision between your vagina and your anus) to help your baby come out.
Complications during labor. An emergency c-section may be necessary if your cervix doesn’t dilate to the full 10 cm necessary for delivery, contractions start to slow early, or your baby doesn’t have a smooth passage out.
Exhaustion. Vaginal birth is a big job and can go on for a long time.
Giving birth is such an individual experience. Whether a c-section or vaginal birth is appropriate for you depends on so many factors, ranging from medical history to personal preference. You and your healthcare practitioner will talk through your options to plot the best way forward.
It’s important to note that practitioners have different ideas on birth methods—if you don’t feel you and your healthcare provider are a good fit, it’s totally okay to search for someone who feels like a better match.
And then, unfortunately, plans and reality are not always aligned.
If your birth doesn’t go as you had imagined, it can leave you with all sorts of feelings. Know that there is no wrong way to feel.
And if you need support, it’s available on Peanut.
Is it possible to have a vaginal birth after c-section?
Short answer? Yes, a vaginal birth after a c-section is possible. Not only that, it seems to be increasing in popularity as an option.
While it’s by no means a sure thing, here are some ways that you might up your chances of a VBAC:
- Wait at least 18 months between births.
- Have a healthy pregnancy. (We know, as if you can just wave a magic wand and it will happen. There are so many factors you can’t control. Do what you can with what you can control. Regular check-ups, healthy eating, bits of exercise, and keeping your stress levels down are all helpful.)
- Be in a supportive environment when you give birth.
Now for some seriously real talk:
How do you push a baby out?
Luckily, your body is pretty good at this, and has been secretly preparing itself for this moment.
The story of vaginal birth is divided into three chapters: labor, delivery of your baby, and the delivery of the placenta.
Chapter 1: Labor
Labor is all about preparing your birth canal for that little lodger to leave the building.
Through contractions, your cervix opens (dilates) and thins (effaces). Labor can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days.
Pro tip? Time your contractions when they start. This is important info for your healthcare practitioner.
For more on what you can expect as you move through the different stages of labor, head here.
Chapter 2: Delivering your baby
When your cervix has opened to its fullest (that’s about 10cm), it’s time to push your baby out.
While pushing gets a lot of airplay as the main drama of childbirth, it’s typically shorter-lived than the contractions phase, and you may even find it less painful.
When your baby crowns—as in, makes an appearance on the outside—you might feel a stretching or burning.
Heard about the ring of fire? Yep, that’s it.
Chapter 3: Delivering the placenta
Once your baby has arrived in the world, the show is not quite over, folks. The finale is the delivery of the placenta.
Luckily, at this point, the contractions are pretty tame and the most intense parts are over.
And now it’s time to ask the all-important question:
How bad is the pain of giving birth?
We’re not going to lie—it hurts. But it’s manageable. And it may not be as bad as you think.
Just under half of the first-time mothers that took part in this study conducted by the American Society of Anesthesiologists said that it wasn’t as bad as they were imagining.
Plus, there are also many ways to manage the pain, the epidural being the most common of these.
Fun fact—an epidural can be given to you right until crowning so, if you’re giving birth in hospital, you have some time to decide.
How long does it take to heal from vaginal birth?
Healing is an interesting process, and no two experiences are alike.
Physically, many new mamas feel as though they’ve recovered from vaginal birth in about six to eight weeks.
But don’t underestimate what your body has just been through. Take your time. Here’s a postpartum recovery guide to help you through.
Also, you’re not alone. Reach out to your Peanut community. You’ll see that many of us are going through much the same thing.
Good luck! ❤️
💡 More from The 411:
Online Birthing Classes: Are They Right For You?
Tips for a More Confident Birth: 4 Things to Do Before You’re Due
Choose Your Own (Birth) Adventure: 3 Must-Ask Questions
Birth Plan Template: Tips & Advice
What to Know About Your Vagina After Birth
All You Need to Know About a Vaginal Tear