labor & delivery

Vaginal delivery

Vaginal delivery topics

Vaginal delivery is a normal process, but every birth is unique. Here are some topics that may come up during a vaginal delivery.

Preterm delivery

  • A preterm delivery occurs when the baby is born early, between 20 and 36 weeks of pregnancy
  • Delivery that's more than 3 weeks before the due date is a risk for the baby, because lungs and other organs may not be fully developed
  • Despite medical advances in the care of preterm babies, their lives are at risk and they may have breathing and other health complications

Postdate delivery

  • A postdate delivery is when the pregnancy lasts more than 42 weeks
  • There is no risk for the mother
  • The baby may be at risk because the placenta becomes less efficient at providing oxygen and nutrients to the baby after 42 weeks

Induction and augmentation

  • These are medical procedures used if labor slows or stops, or if the mother's condition requires delivery. Think of induction as encouraging labor, and augmentation as a means to boost labor
  • Induction uses a hormone called oxytocin to encourage contractions. Oxytocin is a hormone your body makes, and the doctor will give you a synthetic form of the hormone through an intravenous infusion. It will make contractions stronger and speed up labor
  • The doctor may manually break your water to start or speed up labor
  • A gel or suppository of hormone-like substances that cause contractions may also be applied to the cervix
  • If you are scheduled to deliver before 39 weeks gestational age, be sure to talk to your physician about the risk and benefits to both you and your baby. Research has shown that babies born before 39 weeks gestational age without a medical reason for early delivery are at an increased risk of complications. Common complications include breathing problems, low blood sugar and the need for the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)


  • This is a small cut made in the perineum – the skin between the vagina and rectum
  • The cut widens the vaginal opening for delivery and prevents the skin from tearing
  • Though not a routine procedure, episiotomies are often done for first-time births, because the mother's muscles may not have stretched enough to allow the baby's head to pass through
  • The mother will receive a local anesthesia to prevent pain from the procedure
  • Apply ice packs to the area in the first 12 to 24 hours after birth to reduce swelling

Forceps and vacuum extraction

  • These procedures are used when the baby is not moving down the birth canal as it should
  • Forceps look like a pair of tongs or spoons; one tong is placed on either side of the baby's head
  • Vacuum extraction places a small cup on top of the baby's head and gentle suction is used
  • When forceps or vacuum extraction are used by experienced health care professionals, there is little risk to the mother and baby
  • The baby may have some minor swelling or bruising from either procedure, but this goes away within a few days of delivery

Vaginal Birth
"Vaginal birth" is the term used to describe any delivery of the baby through the vagina (versus a c-section delivery). The baby typically comes through head first. Click on the animation or illustrated series above to see how a normal vaginal birth proceeds. If the baby is not head first, (e.g., breech) it may need to be delivered by c-section.

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