Childbirth is mysterious, mystical and miraculous. While that can sound wonderful to some expectant parents, it can also seem very frightening. Parents sometimes find it hard to look forward to their baby's arrival when they have no idea what childbirth looks like.
Thankfully, many women have agreed to record their birth experience, so you have a plethora of material to help you get prepared. Whether a baby comes through the vagina or through the lower stomach via cesarean section, the experience of seeing a baby's birth is one you will likely never forget.
Vaginal childbirth occurs when the fetus makes its way slowly through the cervix, then the birth canal (vagina) and out. At this point, you have gotten through the first stage of labor (good for you!) and the cervix is fully dilated. The baby is now ready to be born and complete the second stage of labor. The doctor or nurse tells you to push. It's almost time to meet that baby!
Different women prefer different positions for childbirth. If you choose an epidural, you will have to deliver on your back because of your numb legs. However, if you elect not to have an epidural, you can choose to deliver on your back, on your hands and knees, or squatting. Some practitioners will allow you to deliver on your side.
Breathing and Pushing
When your doctor says it's time to push, they will wait for a contraction to start, ask you to take a big deep breath, and then push to the count of ten. You will put your chin to your chest and bear down as your nurse counts for you. If your contraction is still going, you'll take a deep breath and do it again.
If you are on your back during this time, your nurse and your partner, or two nurses, or your partner and mom (whoever you want) will help you hold your legs back to create more space for the baby. The doctor might perform an episiotomy at this stage to avoid uncontrolled tears to the vagina and rectum.
The obstetrician, midwife, or nurse will ask you to resume pushing, usually during contractions. With more pushing, the baby's head stretches the vaginal opening further and bulges the labia, perineum, and anus.
Soon, you will see the head appear at the opening (crowning). As you push, the doctor will guide the baby's head out slowly. The top of the head, forehead, eyes, nose, mouth and chin appear in succession.
When the baby's whole head appears out of the vagina, your nurse might ask you to stop pushing and pant. The doctor then has time to suction amniotic and vaginal fluids from the mouth and nose of the baby.
With another push or two, the shoulders and the rest of the baby will slide out and you will hear a (loud!) cry as the baby takes its first breath. You can expect a gush of amniotic fluid, and sometimes blood from the placenta to follow soon after.
Baby will be put straight onto your chest, to give you both valuable skin-to-skin bonding time. A nurse will do a quick assessment of baby's birth health (APGAR scores) while you snuggle.
Within about 30 minutes of birth, your placenta will either slip out during a minor contraction, or get pulled out by your physician or midwife (the third and final stage of labor). After your snuggle-time, your baby's nurse will take them just for a moment to clean them up, weigh them, check their vital signs (like heart rate and temperature) and stamp that cute little baby foot onto a card.
A cesarean birth (C-section) describes the surgical delivery of a baby. Whether a cesarean section is planned (elective) or emergent, the steps in the procedure do not change. You can choose to watch a video of a C-section if you would like to see how the procedure is performed.
The Operating Room
During a C-section, you will get comfy(ish) on the delivery operating table and an anesthesiologist will give you an epidural (more common) or general anesthesia (much less common). Once you are numb, your doctor will drape your belly with sterile sheets. Depending on your facility, you may be able to watch the procedure if you would like. Some hospitals offer clear drapes, but otherwise, they will hang a paper drape to block your view from the surgery team.
Using a scalpel (knife), the obstetrician and their assistant will cut through the skin and other layers of the belly. The surgeons take care of any minimal bleeding from these layers as they go along. You may feel a tug or some pressure here or there, but you will feel no pain.
After cutting the last thin layer (the peritoneum) the surgeon can see the pregnant uterus with baby inside. Dads or partners might be able to see the surgeons packing the bowel away into the upper abdominal cavity with surgical towels to keep them out of the way. Partners may also be able to see inside the belly and see the pregnant uterus depending on where they are standing or sitting.
Next, the surgeon cuts into the uterus and amniotic sac, careful to avoid cutting the baby. The amniotic fluid gushes out and is suctioned away. The amniotic fluid may be blood-tinged from the incision in the uterus.
Part of the baby is now just visible inside the uterus through the incision. The surgeon now delivers the presenting part of the baby (head, bottom, or feet) through the opening in the uterus, and then delivers the rest of the baby.
The doctor or nurse will suction baby's mouth and nose, and then you should start to hear some newborn cries. The surgeon (or sometimes dad/partner) clamps and cuts the umbilical cord.
Baby is passed from the operating table to a nurse who cleans him and does a quick birth assessment (APGAR scores) and passes him off to the mother. The obstetrician and assistant meanwhile continue the surgical work to deliver the placenta and repair the surgical incisions.
More Childbirth Videos
If you find it helpful, you can view more videos to see vaginal childbirth during different scenarios including natural childbirth and giving birth in water. These videos can help you view childbirth in action from a different perspective than while you are giving birth.
Giving birth either vaginally or by cesarean section is a special and memorable moment. Though there are several steps involved in childbirth and complications are possible, most women and babies come through the process without harm.