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Vaginal Delivery

What is a vaginal delivery?

A vaginal delivery occurs when your baby is born through your vagina (birth canal).


What are the stages of labor for a vaginal delivery?

  • First stage: Your uterus will contract to help your cervix dilate (open). Your contractions will soon occur more often and get stronger. The fluid sac that surrounds your baby in the womb will break open. Your caregiver will break the sac if it does not break by itself. You may need medicine to induce (start) your labor. You may also be given pain medicine. You may need to move in bed, stand, or walk to help your baby move into position for birth. The first stage ends when your cervix is dilated to 10 centimeters.

  • Second stage: When your cervix is dilated, you are ready to push during contractions to move your baby through your birth canal. Caregivers may use forceps or suction to help deliver your baby. You may also need an episiotomy (incision) to make the vaginal opening larger. The second stage ends with the birth of your baby.

  • Third stage: Once your baby is born, your caregiver will put clamps on the cord that connects your baby to the placenta. The placenta provides oxygen and nutrients to your baby during pregnancy. The cord is then cut. Your uterus continues to contract to push out the placenta. The third stage ends when your placenta is pushed out.

What happens after a vaginal delivery?

If you have an episiotomy or a tear that occurred during the birth, your caregiver will close it with stitches. Caregivers will check your baby's skin color and how active he is. You may be able to hold your baby soon after he is born. Once caregivers have checked that you and your baby are okay, you will be taken to another room.

  • Activity: Your caregiver may suggest you get out of bed to sit in a chair or walk. Activity can help prevent blood clots.

  • Breast care: If you will breastfeed, ask caregivers to show you how to hold and breastfeed your baby. Ask how to care for your breasts, even if you are not breastfeeding.

  • Uterus care: A caregiver may massage your abdomen several times to make your uterus firm. This can be uncomfortable. You may have abdominal pains for up to 3 days after you give birth because your uterus is still contracting. The contractions help release blood from inside your uterus so it shrinks back to its normal size. These contractions may be stronger and hurt more while you breastfeed your baby.

When might I go home after a vaginal delivery?

You may go home within 24 to 48 hours after the birth if you and your baby do not have any medical problems. If you need support at home, ask your caregiver about home visits by another caregiver. This caregiver can help you learn about breastfeeding, bottle feeding, baby care, and perineum care.

How can I care for myself after a vaginal delivery?

  • Constipation and hemorrhoids: You may have constipation and hemorrhoids for a period of time after you have your baby. Ask your caregiver how to prevent and care for hemorrhoids.

  • Perineum care: Your perineum is the area between your vagina and anus. Keep the area clean to help prevent an infection. Wash the area gently with soap and water when you bathe or shower. Rinse your perineum with warm water when you use the toilet. Ask your caregiver about wound care if you had an episiotomy. Your caregiver may suggest that you use a warm sitz bath to decrease pain. A sitz bath is a bathtub or basin filled to hip level. Stay in the sitz bath for 20 to 30 minutes, or as directed.

  • Vaginal discharge: You will have vaginal discharge, called lochia, after delivery. The lochia is bright red the first day or two. By the fourth day, the amount decreases, and it turns red-brown. Use a sanitary pad rather than a tampon to prevent a vaginal infection. It is normal to have lochia up to 8 weeks after your baby is born.

What are the risks of a vaginal delivery?

  • You may get a blood clot. The clot may break loose, travel to your lungs, and cause trouble breathing. This problem can be life-threatening. You may develop an infection in your uterus, urinary tract, or perineum tears. You may need a blood transfusion or surgery to stop your bleeding during delivery. The nerves in your perineum and legs may be damaged. If you have had a C-section before, your uterus may tear during a vaginal delivery. Tears that occur in your vagina, perineum, or anus will need to be closed with stitches. After a vaginal delivery, sex may be painful. You may also have a uterine prolapse (the uterus falls into the vagina).

  • Forceps or suction used to help deliver your baby may injure your baby's face or head. The tools may also damage the nerves in your baby's neck and arm. He may also be at risk for bleeding in his brain. He may get a hematoma (blood pooling under the skin) from birth with or without tools. A hematoma may cause your baby to have jaundice (yellow skin).

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have a fever.

  • You feel liquid that is not urine come out of your vagina.

  • You think you are having contractions.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You are bleeding from your vagina.

  • You do not feel your baby kicking as often as he usually does.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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