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Giving birth - second stage of labour

4-minute read

The second stage of labour is when you actually give birth to your baby. This stage begins when the cervix is fully dilated and lasts until the birth of your baby. Your midwife will help you find a comfortable position and will guide you when you feel the urge to push.

Find a position

Find the position that you prefer and which will make labour easier for you.

You might want to remain in bed with your back propped up with pillows, or stand, sit, kneel or squat (squatting may feel difficult if you are not used to it).

If you are very tired, you might be more comfortable lying on your side rather than propped up with pillows. If you've had backache in labour, kneeling on all fours might be helpful.

It's up to you. It can help if you have tried out some of these positions beforehand.

Depending on where you are giving birth, you may be able to go through some or all of labour in a bath, which can help you relax and manage the pain.

Pushing

When your cervix is fully dilated you can start to push when you feel you need to during contractions:

  • Take two deep breaths as the contraction starts, and push down.
  • Take another breath when you need to.
  • Give several pushes until the contraction ends.
  • After each contraction, rest and get your strength up for the next one.

This stage of labour is hard work, and progress is usually slow and steady, especially if you are having your first baby. Your midwife will help and encourage you all the time. Your birth partner can also give you lots of support. This stage can take up to 2 hours, so it helps to have your birthing team keeping you updated on your progress. The best thing you can do during this time is to breathe deeply, try to relax, and follow your body’s natural urges to push.

The birth

During the second stage, the baby's head moves down the vagina until it can be seen. When the head is nearly ready to be born, the midwife will ask you to stop pushing, and to pant or puff a couple of quick short breaths, blowing out through your mouth. This is so that your baby's head can be born slowly and gently, giving the skin and muscles of the perineum (the area between your vagina and anus) time to stretch without tearing.

The skin of the perineum usually stretches well, but it may tear. Sometimes, to avoid a tear or to speed up delivery, the midwife or doctor will inject local anaesthetic and do an episiotomy to make the opening to the vagina bigger. Afterwards, the cut or tear is stitched up to help healing. Find out about your body after the birth, including how to deal with stitches.

Once your baby's head is born, most of the hard work is over. With one more gentle push the body is usually born quite quickly and easily. You can have your baby lifted straight onto you before the cord is cut by your midwife or birth partner.

Your baby may be born covered with a white, greasy substance known as 'vernix', which has acted as protection in the uterus.

Skin-to-skin contact

Skin-to-skin contact helps bonding, so it is a good idea to have your baby lifted onto you before the cord is cut so that you can feel and be close to each other straight away.

The umbilical cord is clamped and cut, the baby is dried to prevent them from getting cold, and you'll be able to hold and cuddle your baby. Your baby may be quite messy, with some of your blood and perhaps some of the vernix on their skin. If you prefer, you can ask the midwife to wipe your baby and wrap them in a blanket before your cuddle.

Sometimes mucus has to be cleared out of a baby's nose and mouth. Some babies need additional help to establish breathing and may be taken to a special area in the room to be given oxygen. Your baby will not be kept away from you any longer than necessary.

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Last reviewed: September 2019


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The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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