These facts might surprise you. According to research studies, 85% of pregnant women can have a non-medicated natural birth while only the remaining 15% require medical interventions such as a C-section. But, statistically, one in three pregnant women (more than 30%) goes through a C-section (1).
It has also become common for women to choose C-section to get away from pain and anxiety during labor. But, a C-section could pose complications in future, and take extended days of recovery, unlike a normal delivery.
In this post, MomJunction discusses the goodness of normal delivery and how you can go through it with ease.
What Is Normal Delivery?
Normal delivery is a natural way of bringing the baby into this world. It is not difficult to have a natural and normal childbirth, unless you have some medical conditions. Moreover, the natural birth process helps in having a healthy baby and recovering quickly for the new mom (2).
Though there is no formula or shortcut to have a normal delivery, some measures can improve your chances of having a healthy and natural delivery.
What Factors Improve Your Chances Of A Normal Delivery?
Certain factors determine your ability to have a normal delivery. They may not guarantee a 100% result though. You will have increased chances if:
- You had a normal vaginal delivery in your previous pregnancies.
- You do not have any underlying health issues, such as asthma, which may aggravate during pregnancy and labor.
- You have ideal weight, as being overweight could increase the chances of having a large baby and lower the chances of normal delivery.
- Your pregnancy is going smoothly without any complications.
- You are physically active all through your pregnancy. The more physically fit you are, the higher are the chances of a normal birth.
- Your physiological conditions including blood pressure, blood sugar, and hemoglobin are in control (3).
The above are the general health factors during pregnancy that influence your chances of having a normal delivery. But when the due date is approaching, your body sends some signals that it is ready for a natural birth.
Signs And Symptoms Of Normal Delivery:
Changes may occur a few weeks before the expected due date. And your doctor asks you to be on the lookout for these signs as they indicate labor. However, the signs may vary from one woman to another and from pregnancy to pregnancy.
Pre-labor signs and symptoms that appear one to four weeks before labor:
- Lack of coordination in movements as the baby descends lower into the pelvic region
- Loosened joints as relaxin hormone softens and loosens the ligaments and joints in the pelvic area
- Urge to urinate frequently as the baby’s head presses against the urinary bladder
- Braxton Hick’s contractions, the false contractions that develop before the real labor
- Cramping and pain in the lower back as the joints and muscles stretch and become active for the nearing labor
- Dilation of the cervix, which is noted by your doctor during the prenatal checkup
- Watery stools as the rectal muscles begin to relax for the delivery
Early labor signs and symptoms that appear days or hours before labor:
- Vaginal discharge increases and becomes thicker in consistency
- Parts of mucus plug get eliminated every time you urinate; look for pinkish and thick mucus as this is an important sign of nearing labor
- More frequent and stronger contractions that progress with time
- Cramping and pain in the lower back that radiates to abdomen and legs
- Water breaking, i.e., the rupture of amniotic sac
Once you observe these signs, make sure to have your partner or any other person near you to monitor your condition.
Advanced labor signs and symptoms:
- Warm sensation in the abdomen
- Severe pains from contractions that continue for almost 40 to 60 seconds
- While some women go straight into advanced labor, some others may undergo all of this discomfort associated with normal delivery (4).
And there are several discomforts that are a part of normal delivery. So…
Why Should You Prefer Normal Delivery?
The answer is simple: birthing is a natural process and the human body is designed for it. Leave alone a C-section, healthy women may not even require painkillers or epidural. Unfortunately, some health practitioners presuppose that laboring women would need pain medications, or simply recommend a C-section to avoid pain and trouble (5).
But, we will tell you why you should keep your delivery as natural as possible.
1. Labor is shorter:
Pain medications and epidurals usually interfere with the natural labor processes, slow down contractions, and increase the total laboring period. Also, when you do not feel the contractions, you will not know when to push and cannot progress to the laboring stage. You will miss the opportunity to go in sync with the rhythm of your body. In the absence of medication, your pushes are timed, and thus the labor is shorter (6).
2. Epidurals lead to medical interventions:
As epidurals prolong labor and disconnect you from the natural push action, practitioners intervene and give uterine stimulants (such as Pitocin drip) or assist delivery by vacuum or forceps (7). Also, they study the fetal heart rate using a fetal scalp electrode (which is attached to baby’s scalp) (8). These may not be detrimental to yours or your baby’s health, but dilute the natural process.
3. Healthier for both mom and baby:
Vaginal birth takes a shorter recovery time. Babies receive protective bacteria from the birth canal, which helps build their immune system. Passing through birth canal also expels excess amniotic fluid from the lungs lowering the risk of respiratory diseases. In case of a Cesarian delivery, the resultant contractions followed by uterine stimulants (such as Pitocin drip), will become so fast and strong that you will not have enough recovery time. This passes less oxygen to the fetus. Also, epidurals increase the likeliness of fever, forcing you to take antibiotics.
4. Facilitates breastfeeding:
Babies delivered naturally adapt to breastfeeding with ease. The pain relievers given in C-section deliveries pass on to the baby through breastfeeding. Therefore, the baby shows abnormal suckling behavior shortly after birth. Also, the baby has difficulty in latching and show uncoordinated suck/swallow response for some hours or days.
5. Greater connection with the body:
You will stay alert and conscious of the nearing labor when drugs are not used. You will be connected to your body. Pain medications usually diminish a woman’s sense of being physically attached to the birthing process.
6. Faster post-delivery recovery:
Natural delivery is always followed by a short recovery period as it does not involve any numbing medications, needles, or tubes over the body parts. You can walk around and indulge in physical activity without affecting your health. During the natural birth, the body produces pain-relieving and calming hormones endorphins. But, if pain medication is used, the body will not produce as many endorphins.
7. Makes you feel confident:
Women who give natural birth feel more confident and empowered. It makes you feel stronger, and less fearful about accepting other challenges that come in life (9).
8. Short hospital stay:
Labor can be painful and exhausting, but once you are done, you are done! One of the biggest benefits of a vaginal birth is that it entails a shorter hospital stay and recovery time when compared to a C-section.
9. No major surgery:
A C-section is a major surgery. So, if you can have a vaginal birth, you’ll not only escape going under the knife but also not have the numerous health risks associated with it, including severe bleeding, scarring, infections, reactions to anesthesia, and pain.
10. Quicker bonding:
Skin to skin exposure is a great way to bond with a newborn. With normal delivery, it is easier for the mother to hold her baby and have a bond quickly.
11. Lower chances of lung problems:
The muscles working to push the baby out during a normal delivery can also squeeze out fluid from the baby’s lungs. That is why babies born via normal delivery are less likely to suffer from breathing difficulties.
12. A boost to the baby’s immune system:
Did you know that a normal delivery can be a boon for your baby’s immune system? Well, a baby gets a dose of good bacteria when it is traveling through the birth canal. This strengthens the baby’s immune and digestive systems (11).
After knowing about the goodness of a natural birth, you must be wondering as to how our body can manage to do this intricate job.
What is The Process of a Normal Delivery?
A normal childbirth is divided into three stages.
Stage 1: It consists of three phases – latent, active, and transition – where the uterus effaces and dilates.
i. Early or latent phase: Cervix dilates from 0-4cm
This initial step lasts from six to ten hours in first-time pregnancy. In some cases, it can be longer or shorter.
What will you experience?
- Cervix thins out and opens by 3-4cm.
- Contractions become frequent, occur irregularly between five and 30 minutes, and last for 30 to 45 seconds.
- Abdominal discomfort is followed by a slightly pink discharge. This is the time you may be admitted in hospital and frequently checked for the degree of dilation (12).
What can help?
- Rest and take good care of yourself.
- Alternate between activity and rest (for instance, take a short walk followed by a shower), drink plenty of fluids, and eat easily digestible foods.
- The best place to stay is home (or hospital). Do not move around a lot.
- Have someone with you so that you can stay calm and be confident that you are not alone.
- When contractions turn stronger, you should do relaxation and breathing exercises.
- Get a shoulder massage from your partner, or listen to music for a pleasant environment.
ii. Active phase: Cervix dilates from 4-7cm
This phase lasts from three to six hours in first-time pregnancy and for lesser duration in the subsequent deliveries.
What will you experience?
- With each contraction, you will feel severe pain and pressure in the abdomen and back.
- The contractions now occur between three and five minutes, and radiate along the lower back, abdomen, and thighs.
- You will feel the urge to push down and become more focused. You might have dark pink or brown discharge (13).
What can help?
- Empty your bladder and have a lot of fluids.
- Try to do relaxation or breathing exercises and take rest between contractions.
- Change positions often to stay comfortable and support progression.
- As the contractions get stronger, you could ask your partner to give you a massage.
- Take a warm shower if your healthcare practitioner allows you to do so.
- You can also make the environment pleasant by dimming the lights and playing light music.
iii. Transition phase: Cervix dilates to 10cm
The last phase lasts between 20 minutes and two hours in first-time pregnancy and lesser duration the subsequent pregnancies.
What will you experience?
- Cervix completes dilation and effacement.
- Contractions become strong, frequent, and painful and recur every three to four minutes.
- You will feel increasingly nauseous, fatigued, and shivery.
- You will have a strong urge to push down as there is pressure built in the rectal and vaginal area. But do not push until your doctor gives you the signal (13).
What can help?
- Focus on breathing and relaxation techniques.
- If you have a strong urge to push but it is not the right time yet, your practitioner tell you about the ways to resist the urge.
- Your partner should encourage you and give you undivided attention.
Stage 2: The baby is pushed out and delivered.
This stage begins with a fully dilated cervix. It lasts between half-an-hour and two hours in first-time pregnancies and reduces in subsequent births.
What will you experience?
- The body transits from dilating to pushing.
- The baby makes her way down through the pelvic region and birth canal.
- The soft spots on the baby’s head, called fontanels, allow the body to fit through the birth canal.
- Just before the baby pushes out, you will feel a stinging, burning, and stretching sensation near the vaginal opening.
- The baby’s head comes out first, and then you will find it easier to push the rest of the body out.
- Your practitioner will clamp and cut the umbilical cord.
What can help?
- Just breathe easy and look at your partner or family member as they would encourage you.
- If the labor is progressing slowly, try to change positions. All-fours, side lying, and squatting can help you.
- You may feel tension in the perineum. Warm compresses relieve the tension.
- Your practitioner will tell you the right way to breathe and push. Follow their instructions.
Stage 3: The placenta is removed from the body.
It is also called “the afterbirth,” which happens right after the birth of the baby. It usually takes about a few minutes to half-an-hour.
What will you experience?
- The cord is cut, and your baby is cleaned and placed on the abdomen.
- You will be asked to push out the placenta, when again you will have pain and cramping (14).
- You will be so overwhelmed with your baby that you hardly notice this phase.
What can help?
- Place your baby on your breast for skin-to-skin contact. Touch, cuddle, and caress her.
- It is time to breastfeed her for the first-time, and this helps tighten the uterus and decrease bleeding.
- Apply cold compress to the perineum as it helps reduce swelling and eases the discomfort.
No matter how long the labor lasts, seeing the baby’s face and holding them makes it all worth the effort. But if you want to have a general idea about the duration of a normal delivery, then we’ll help you understand.
How Long Does Normal Delivery Last?
A normal delivery usually takes about 12 to 14 hours. This is in the case of first delivery, and the process gets shorter for subsequent deliveries (10).
However, the length and intensity of delivery change according to the below factors:
- Number of deliveries so far: The cervix tends to dilate quickly in subsequent deliveries.
- Prior experience: You may be more confident about this pregnancy as you have experienced a pregnancy before.
- Strength and intensity of pains and contractions: Your body adapts to the force of contractions
- Ease of cervical dilation: As vagina and pelvic floor muscles have already been stretched before, the cervix dilates easily.
- Baby’s position: If the baby is in a head-down position (anterior position), your labor is likely to be more relaxed and shorter.
- Calm and relaxed mind: It helps you get through the delivery easily as you muster mental strength.
Though natural pregnancy is a good option, certain tips can make you sail through the labor and birthing process with ease.
Tips For Normal Delivery:
It is apparent that a normal vaginal delivery is the best way to give birth, both for the mother and child. And if you are hoping to go natural, you should follow these tips (16):
1. Stay away from stress:
It is normal to feel stressful during pregnancy. But try to stay away from stress, anxiety, and random thoughts, because negative emotions can turn the process of childbirth into a nightmare.
- Try any form of meditation that helps you feel comfortable.
- Read books, listen to music, and involve in visualization techniques.
- Remain in the company of good and friendly people.
- Stay away from people and situations that make you feel uncomfortable or negative.
2. Stay positive and refrain from negative birth stories:
You may come across both easy and difficult childbirth stories. Listening to negative stories would make you more nervous and anxious, and may result in a panic-attack.
- If a fellow-mother happens to share her nightmare of childbirth, just walk away from her.
- Remember that not everyone has the same story of labor. Just because your friend had an unfortunate delivery does not mean you will have one.
3. Acquire knowledge about birthing:
Knowledge is power. Acquire as much knowledge as possible about labor and the delivery process.
- Get all your doubts about pregnancy and childbirth cleared by your doctor.
- Read books about childbirth.
- Talk to your mother or other elderly women in the family who can help you with their experience.
- Grab information on natural management techniques such as relaxation, breathing, and coping techniques.
- Enroll in prenatal classes.
However, do not be overwhelmed. Sometimes, too much information can also be a problem. When the time is right, the medical professional will help you get through the situation.
4. Build a strong support system:
Have enough emotional support. Have your partner, mother and close friends around so that they are there to boost your confidence and allay your fears about normal delivery.
- Make sure you and your partner are on the same page when it comes to childbirth.
- Your family will stand by your side, but if you have any different views or ideas about pregnancy, do share them with them and come to a consensus.
- Having a support system can help take away a lot of the stress involved with.
5. Choose your doctor wisely:
It is a sad fact that many doctors look for convenience and hurry mothers into a C-section. So, it is important to choose a doctor who’ll consider a C-section as a last resort and deliver your baby wisely.
- Make sure your doctor and the clinic have a good rate of normal delivery.
- Talk to your doctor about their views on normal delivery.
- If you feel that your doctor may not respect your wish of having a normal delivery, look for another doctor.
6. Hire an experienced doula:
If you can find an experienced doula to help with your childbirth, that’s half the battle won!
- An experienced doula can be invaluable during labor and delivery.
- She can help you stay calm and be your advocate during labor.
- Post birth, she helps you breastfeed the baby.
7. Regular perineal massages can help your body get ready for a normal delivery.
- You can start doing perineal massage once you enter the seventh month.
- It helps you deal with labor and manage stress too.
- All you have to do is hook your thumb inside and gently pull the lower part of the vagina outward and forward (17).
8. Stay hydrated:
Water is vital for your health, more so now that you are pregnant.
- Labor is hard to the body, and you’ll need extra water to stay hydrated. Your body gets a lot of stamina and energy with water and you are less likely in need of intravenous fluids.
- You can also stock up on some fresh juices or healthy energy drinks to get your daily quota of fluids. This is one of the best tips to have a normal delivery.
9. Use water:
Apart from drinking water, you can also use it to make the labor process easier.
- Hydrotherapy can help beat stress, and reduce discomfort and pain during labor.
- Fill the bathtub with water and soak in it for relief. Also showers, birthing pools, and hot compresses help ease pain and offer relaxation.
- Keep the temperature of the water normal to avoid any harm to your unborn baby.
10. Try the ice game:
If you want to know how best to cope with the birthing process, try the ice game that requires your partner’s participation too.
- Take turns to hold an ice cube in your hand for 60 seconds.
- The first time around, you can try holding the ice cube while talking to each other.
- Next, try holding the ice cube while walking around.
- Finally, hold the ice cube in complete silence for 60 seconds.
- It is a great way to gauge how long you can take the pain and cope with labor pain.
11. Keep a watch on your postures:
Keep your body aligned so that the baby can glide smoothly. Standing and sitting for extended periods, sleeping in awkward positions, wearing high heels and tight belts could misalign your body.
- Sit with a proper support to your back. There would be added pressure on your spine during pregnancy and mishandling your body can only increase the pain.
- Sit with folded or stretched out legs as hanging them for too long can lead to swelling.
- Do not slouch when sitting or bend to lift things. Do not rush down or up the stairs.
12. Try not to put on excess weight:
Yes, it is important to achieve a decent amount of weight during pregnancy, but you don’t need to pile on the pounds. Overweight women can have problems during labor and may end up with a C-section.
- Obesity can make it difficult to monitor the baby during labor, making normal delivery difficult.
- If you are obese, your baby could be bio, making it difficult for the baby to come out (18).
13. Go for chiropractic adjustments:
Some people believe in chiropractic adjustments; some don’t. But you can give it a try it and continue if you see good results with regular visits to a chiropractor.
- Chiropractic adjustments can help relieve stress.
- A good practitioner can provide relief from tense and painful muscles as well as pinched nerves.
- You can also get relief from back pain and strengthen your thighs and back with regular adjustments. This can be a big help during a normal delivery.
- Chiropractic adjustments help fix an out-of-line pelvis and assist in a normal delivery.
- You can see a chiropractor once a month in the first and second trimesters, and more often in the final trimester (19).
Food Tips For Normal Delivery:
Your diet plays an important role in keeping you healthy, thus paving the way for a natural birth.
14. Eat right:
A healthy mother means a healthy baby.
- Your diet should consist of a healthy dose of fruits, vegetables, lean meat, legumes, and dairy.
- Choose dark green vegetables, a good amount of starchy food, and foods that are rich in protein.
- Your body needs extra iron during pregnancy so make sure you eat an iron-rich diet.
- Avoid foods that contain retinol.
- Consume seafood in moderate amounts.
- Reduce your intake of sugar.
- Avoid eating street food as they may contain bacteria, which can harm your health (20).]
15. Include bromelain-rich foods:
Bromelain is an enzyme that can stimulate labor and soften the cervix.
- Fruits such as mango, and pineapple are rich in bromelain.
- Consume raw bromelain-rich food for best results.
- But do not consume these fruits in excess as you may go into premature labor (21).
16. Eat spicy food:
It may be an old wife’s tale, but many women swear by this trick (22)!
- Spicy food can make your body warmer and encourage a normal delivery.
- But some women may end up with a bad case of indigestion, heartburn, and diarrhea due to spicy foods. If that is the case with you, drop this trick, and try something else!
A little bit of exercise never hurt anyone. Keeping yourself physically active during pregnancy aids in a natural delivery.
Pregnancy Exercises For Normal Delivery:
Do not begin any exercise without informing your doctor. Your doctor is the best person to know which exercises could suit your body. Here are some normal delivery exercises that help your baby reach an optimal birthing position and strengthen your pelvic floor (23):
17. Practice right breathing exercises:
Breathing is something you don’t even notice. But it is the one thing that can make the whole labor process easier, negating the need for a C-section.
Here are some breathing exercises for normal delivery:
- Breathing from the chest
- Breathing from the stomach
- Shallow breathing
- Alternate deep and shallow breathing
18. Walking and swimming:
Both are highly recommended exercises for pregnant women.
- Walking is an excellent low-intensity exercise. So, grab a pair of good shoes and start walking. You can walk around the house or in your garden for at least 30 minutes twice a day. It helps prevent problems of constipation, high blood pressure, and restlessness.
- Swimming is another great way to stay fit and be ready for normal delivery. It prevents muscle injury, regulates heartbeat, strengthens your muscle, and keeps your body fit.
19. Regular exercises:
Indulging in mild exercises will not only build your stamina but also keep you active during pregnancy. Some exercises you can try are:
- Kegels make the thigh muscles stronger that help in beating the stress during labor pain.
- Pelvic tilts and cat or cow stretches make the pelvic muscles loose and make the lower back flexible.
- Butterfly pose opens the pelvis and stretches the lower back.
- Squatting helps to open the pelvis and get your baby into the best birthing position.
20. Prenatal yoga:
Yoga is not just a great way to a healthier body, but also a means to ease out your delivery.
- Yoga is all about breathing right, which can be of great help during labor and delivery.
- Some yoga poses are perfect for pregnancy as they help release lower back tension.
- These poses help to open up your chest, shoulders, and hips.
- Take prenatal yoga classes from a specialist so that it is safe for you and your baby (24).
So, why are we emphasizing on natural birth all along? Is C-section that bad?
C-Section vis-à-vis Normal Delivery:
Why do some women prefer C-section, or doctors recommend C-section if that is bad? C-section is not bad, just that natural birthing is better. C-section has its own advantages, and also is devoid of certain disadvantages that a normal delivery could have.
One of the biggest benefits of a C-section is that it is convenient. You can schedule the surgery as per your convenience. It means that you can thoroughly plan the arrival of your baby.
2. No labor pain:
This is the most obvious benefit of a C-section birth! For women with a low threshold for pain, C-section can be a blessing.
3. No injuries to the vagina:
One of the biggest fears women have while giving birth is vaginal tear. And the fear is not unfounded. In some cases, tears are so severe that they require stitches. You might escape this in a C-section, but the stitches will be there on your body elsewhere on the abdomen.
4. The baby is safer:
Difficult labor processes can injure the baby. A bruised scalp or fractured collarbone are common in babies. On the other hand, the baby can be safely brought out of your womb in the case of a C-section.
5. C-section is painful:
If you thought pain is associated with normal delivery, think again. C-section is painful too. In fact, in a natural birth, pain is gone the moment the labor is over, but in a C-section, the pain continues to be there for weeks.
6. Good for your future deliveries:
If a woman undergoes a normal delivery in her first pregnancy, she is most likely to have a normal delivery in her future pregnancies too. The same holds good with C-section as well.
7. Risk of death is low:
According to studies, women are 3.6 times more likely to die during a C-section than during a normal delivery (25).
Now that we have explained about normal delivery in entirety, you may make a wise decision. Consider all the points and talk to your doctor before making a decision.
We understand that all this information can be taxing and you may have a few questions in mind. So, below, we answer a few commonly asked questions.
Frequently Asked Questions:
1. Can I tell my baby’s position based on his movements?
Though ultrasound scan is the sure-shot way to know the baby’s position, you can get some clues about which side your baby is lying, based on its movements.
Babies lying with their head down (cephalic position) will kick more strongly towards the top of the bump. Later in the pregnancy, you will feel like something is sticking out on both sides of your bump as babies stretch their legs quite often. Babies with their feet at the bottom (breech position) will kick in the lower part of the bump (26).
Your practitioner can tell you about the exact position of your baby during your routine antenatal checkups. If the baby is in a breech position, you may be asked to follow some natural methods to turn the baby into the right birthing position. In some cases, you may have to undergo a procedure called external cephalic version (ECV) where the obstetrician will try turning the baby from outside the bump (27).
2. What is the first hospital admission like?
Once it is determined you are in labor, it is the time for you to be hospitalized. There would be forms to sign and paperwork to be done, which your partner can help you with.
Preliminary examinations will be conducted either by your practitioner or midwife. Based on the contraction patterns and fetal heart rates, there could be more procedures. The initial examination, however, involves cervical measurements – the dilation, effacement, and station (28).
3. How will you know when to push?
You will be encouraged to push once your cervix reaches a dilation of ten centimeters. For most women, pushing happens instinctively as they feel better when pushing, and you get a burst of energy. For an effective push, you should take a deep breath and hold it in the lungs, and bend forward so that your chin and legs are towards your chest. It takes from a few minutes to hours to push your baby out.
4. How painful is normal delivery?
Labor is a painful and intense process. The contracting uterus that pushes the baby out leads to muscle tightening in the abdominal region. It, therefore, exerts pressure on the back, vaginal area, rectal area, perineum, bladder, pelvic bolt, and abdomen. All these result in strong and intense pain and discomfort (29) that will last until you deliver the baby.
Do not worry about the pain and discomfort involved in normal delivery. Your support system and your doctor will be there for you to tackle the labor. Just be happy and feel special for welcoming the new little one into your life. Follow the normal delivery tips mentioned above for a good chance of birthing the baby naturally.