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You push during the second stage of labor – and your baby enters the world.
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Linda Murray: Once your cervix is fully dilated, the second stage of labor begins. This is when you’ll push your baby through the birth canal and out into the world. Your contractions actually do a lot of the work for you, but most women end up doing some pushing to help the process along. It’s hard work. But pushing can help you manage the pain of contractions and give you a welcome goal to focus on.
This is stage that can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours and tends to take longer if you’re a first-time mom or have an epidural. When you push, you use your abdominal muscles to bear down on your baby. Some moms say it feels like they’re straining to have a bowel movement. Your caregiver may coach you to push during each contraction as soon as you enter the second stage. Or she may suggest waiting until you feel a spontaneous urge to push. Meanwhile, try to rest and let your contractions continue to inch your baby down the birth canal. If you have an epidural, you may not feel much of an urge to push until your baby’s head has descended quite a bit. In some cases, you may need coaching to help you push effectively.
Most women who have an epidural do feel at least some pressure that can guide their pushing efforts. If you can move around, you may want to try different positions for pushing until you find one that feels right for you like squatting, kneeling on all fours, or sitting on a birth stool.
Your baby may move through the birth canal gradually or very quickly. As he begins to emerge, his head will become visible through the opening of your vagina. The area between your vagina and anus called the perineum will begin to bulge with each push. You’ll feel strong pressure against your perineum and perhaps a burning sensation that some women call the ring of fire. You may feel an overwhelming urge to push at this point but your doctor or midwife might ask you to push gently or stop all together so that your vaginal opening can stretch gradually making it less likely to tear.
When the widest part of your baby’s head is finally visible, it’s called crowning. The great news is that the pain eases from here and the sensation of incredible pressure is gone. Once your baby’s head is out and any loop of umbilical cord moved out of the way, you’ll be asked to give one more push. Your doctor or midwife will turn your baby sideways to position his shoulders. First one slips out and then the next and then his entire body. Your baby is finally here.