A vaginal delivery is when a person gives birth through their vagina. Vaginal deliveries are the most common and most preferred method of delivery. This is because they are typically low-risk and carry the most benefits to the birthing person and baby.
A vaginal delivery is when a person gives birth through their vagina. It's the most common method of childbirth. During a vaginal birth, your uterus contracts to thin and open your cervix and push your baby out through your vagina (or birth canal).
Healthcare providers prefer vaginal deliveries because they're usually safest for the fetus and the birthing person. A vaginal delivery occurs most often between weeks 37 and 42 of pregnancy.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were more than 2.5 million vaginal deliveries in 2020. Vaginal deliveries account for about 68% of all births in the United States and 80% of births worldwide.
There are different types of vaginal deliveries: spontaneous, induced and assisted.
A vaginal delivery can be broken into three stages: labor, birth and delivering the placenta.
The first stage of labor begins with uterine contractions and ends with your cervix being 10 centimeters dilated and 100% effaced.
Labor can be classified as early labor, active labor and transitional labor.
The birthing stage begins when you reach 10 centimeters and ends with the birth of your baby through your vagina. In this stage of labor, you experience strong contractions and begin pushing. You may feel pressure or like you need to poop. Your healthcare provider may coach you through pushing, especially if you've had an epidural and can't feel contractions. This phase can last a few minutes or a few hours. Generally, birth is quicker if you've had a prior vaginal delivery.
The last stage of labor is delivering the placenta (commonly called afterbirth). It begins after your baby is removed from your vagina and ends when your placenta is delivered. Your healthcare provider may ask you for a few more pushes. This stage begins a few minutes after your baby is born and lasts up to 30 minutes.
It's important to remember that labor and childbirth are different for everyone. Certain factors can play a role in your labor being longer or shorter. For example, if you get an epidural, you won't experience the same pain level as a person who doesn't get an epidural. Also, your labor may be longer if it's your first baby. Factors like the size and position of your baby and how quickly you dilate can all affect how long a vaginal delivery takes.
Vaginal deliveries generally carry the least risk. The most common complications during a vaginal delivery are:
A vaginal delivery is usually the preferred delivery method. However, certain conditions make a vaginal delivery dangerous. Your healthcare provider may recommend a C-section delivery if:
A vaginal delivery offers several benefits to both the birthing person and the fetus.
The benefits of vaginal delivery for the birthing person are:
The benefits of vaginal delivery for the fetus are:
Yes, it can be painful. There are many options to help manage your pain during a vaginal delivery. Some people choose to get an epidural block. An epidural numbs your body from the waist down. Discuss your options for pain relief with your healthcare provider.
You may have physical and emotional changes after giving birth. It's common to experience:
Some people experience the "baby blues," postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. Hormonal changes may cause sadness, crying or other emotions within the first few weeks after a vaginal delivery. If you still feel sad, anxious or have mood swings several weeks or months after your baby is born, talk to your healthcare provider.
Recovery time for a vaginal delivery varies. Generally, healing from a vaginal delivery is faster than it is for a C-section. Several factors can influence how quickly you heal. One of those is if your vagina tears and how severe that tear is. If you've torn, you may feel sore for several weeks. Going to the bathroom, sitting and standing or performing everyday tasks may be painful. It's normal to experience swelling and itching around the tear. Most people will have swelling, bruising and general soreness in their vaginal area for a week or two, regardless of vaginal tearing. Putting cold compresses or cooling sanitary pads on your vaginal area may help.
It depends on the person. Some people will bleed for less time than others. It's normal to be bleeding at your postpartum visit several weeks later. Contact your healthcare provider if your bleeding increases over time or you're still filling extra thick sanitary pads after several weeks.
Most healthcare providers recommend waiting at least six weeks or until after your postpartum visit to have sex. This gives your body time to heal and allows your provider to examine your vagina to make sure it has healed. Also, consider birth control options and future pregnancies before engaging in sexual intercourse again. Just because you aren’t menstruating and have just given birth doesn't mean you can't get pregnant again.
You can try to prepare by creating a birth plan, but there's no way to know what will happen when the time comes. Every labor and delivery is unique. It may help to discuss your wishes with your partner, family, friends and healthcare provider. Asking questions beforehand can also help you know what to expect.
It's hard to know what to expect from a vaginal delivery, especially if you've never given birth. Even if you've had previous vaginal deliveries, each delivery is unique and different.
Some common questions that people ask their healthcare provider about a vaginal delivery are:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Giving birth is an exciting and life-altering event. Every pregnancy, labor and delivery is unique. A vaginal delivery is the most common way to give birth. It's hard to know what to expect until you've experienced it, but talking to your healthcare provider and asking questions can help you prepare. Vaginal deliveries are generally low-risk and highly successful. Your healthcare team is trained to manage any complications that arise and help you welcome a healthy baby into the world.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/26/2022.
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