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What Happens During Birth? From Vaginal Delivery to C-Section

It's normal to be nervous about giving birth. Knowing what happens during birth can help create a positive start to your parenting experience, take a look.

5 mins to read Jun 17, 2022

Here's a breakdown of what can happen during birth

Everyone’s experience of giving birth is different, and it’s impossible to predict exactly what to expect. Allowing for unpredictability and informing yourself about possible outcomes can go a long way toward setting realistic expectations and reducing anxiety. Which can help make your birth experience a positive one.

So what happens during the birthing process and what are the different types of delivery? From C-section and vaginal birth, our simple descriptions and tips can help prepare you for your baby’s delivery day.


The two main types of delivery

Most babies are born vaginally, with or without some level of medical intervention such as pain relief, induction, forceps or vacuum extraction (also known as ventouse). Around 32% of babies in Australia - are born by caesarean section, a surgical procedure commonly known as a c-section, or a caesar.

How your baby is delivered can depend on lots of factors, such as mum’s health and weight, baby’s health and weight, baby’s position in the womb or birth canal, and complications that might happen during labour.

You might have a strong preference for how your baby comes into the world. Keeping an open mind might help you deal better with any necessary changes on delivery day. The most important thing is that mum and baby are kept safe and well.


Vaginal delivery

Vaginal births involve the baby being born through the birth canal.  How much pain relief or other interventions you have will depend on your birth plan and choices, your needs and your healthcare professionals recommendations. A good thing to know about a vaginal birth - Your baby will be exposed to a number of beneficial bacteria through the birth canal, helping to kickstart their own immune system and support a healthy gut flora.

Birth centre or low-intervention hospital births only tend to be recommended for straightforward pregnancies and labours, where limited or no pain relief or intervention is required.

If your labour is delayed, progresses slowly, is painful or develops complications, you might need more help delivering your baby. This could include:

  • Having your labour induced (where contractions are triggered and/or boosted) for example with a membrane sweep or hormones,
  • Having pain relief such as an epidural anaesthetic (an injection that delivers pain relief into your spine), or
  • Having an assisted vaginal delivery through the use of forceps (metal spoon-shaped instruments) or vacuum extraction to help get the baby out of the birth canal. If forceps or vacuum extraction is needed, you’ll probably also need an episiotomy—a surgical cut to make the vaginal opening bigger - which will be stitched up after the birth.

As your labour progresses your doctors and/or midwives will speak to you about what interventions might be required.


C-section or caesarean section delivery

Caesarean births may be planned to take place before you go into labour (also called elective c-sections) or unplanned (sometimes known as emergency c-sections).

Your healthcare professional may decide that an elective c-section is the safest way to deliver your baby, for example if:

  • You are carrying multiple babies,
  • You or your baby has an underlying health condition,
  • You have a low-lying placenta, or
  • Baby is in the breech position (feet rather than headfirst) toward the end of your pregnancy.

You might need an emergency c-section if:

  • Your labour is progressing slowly,
  • You’ve been induced but have not gone into labour
  • There are concerns about you or your baby that happen during labour

Most planned caesareans happen with a spinal anesthetic, meaning you will be awake and won’t be able to feel much from the waist down and an epidural is more likely to be used for an emergency c-section. A screen can be put up so you can’t see the operation, an incision is made across your lower tummy and your baby is pulled out of your womb. If you’re anxious about having a scheduled or unplanned caesarean section start by working with your healthcare professional and get tips from other mums.

Want to know more about c-sections? Check out c-sections: what to consider.  


Get your body ready for giving birth to a baby with a healthy diet and lifestyle

The best thing you can do to help prepare for what happens during birth is to continue looking after your own health and baby’s as part of your birth plan. Follow a well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet, and talk to your healthcare professional about taking a pre-natal supplement to meet your baby’s and your body’s needs, and stay active. Doing this will help keep your weight and baby’s birth weight on track, plus keep you fit for the demands of childbirth and recovering from delivery.

Keep an eye on your iron levels - Your baby will rely on your iron levels throughout pregnancy. It is particularly important at the time they are born, because they rely on the store of iron from the umbilical cord blood for approximately 6 months, until the time they start solid foods that are rich in iron.

If you’re planning a vaginal birth, think about what meals and snacks you may want to eat in the earlier stages of labour to keep your energy levels up at home and in hospital (if your healthcare professional supports it). It’s best to avoid large meals and high-fat foods that are more likely to make you feel nauseous and think instead of eating little and often - things like wholegrain pasta or toast, vegetables, nuts, and seeds are good options.

Last but not least, don’t forget to make your mental wellbeing a priority - as well as getting as much sleep and rest as you can. You might find things like meditation, pregnancy massages, prenatal yoga or pilates can help get your mind and body relaxed and ready for giving birth.

For more tips on what to eat and how to exercise during pregnancy, try your baby-ready diet and sleep and exercise during pregnancy.