The second stage of labor begins once you reach the full 10-centimeter dilation of the cervix – your doctor or midwife will inform you when you’ve reached this mark. The second stage lasts from now until when your baby passes through the birth canal and greets the world for the first time. In total, this stage can last two hours or more, but can be as fast as 15 minutes, especially in subsequent births.
Push comes to shove
You may have felt an urge to push during first stage labor, but at this point the urge can be very strong. Oddly, some women don’t feel it which is totally fine. Listen to your midwife or doctor about when to push. It’s not totally necessary but is often helpful to get some guidance here. Women push once or twice during each contraction. At this point the contractions are about 60-90 seconds apart. The more time between contractions, the longer the pushing tends to take.
You may have taken a prenatal class where you learned different positions for labor. Although some doctors prefer women on their backs – the “supine” position – it’s not the most efficient for pushing. Left to their own devices, women tend to get into some kind of squat or kneeling position.
Gravity-friendly positions can help shorten the pushing phase and reduce the chances of tearing. However, if your labor is moving a little too quickly, your doctor may instruct you to lie on your side or take some deep breaths and refrain from pushing to slow the process. (This is not very common in a first time labor.)
If you happen to urinate or have a bowel movement, don’t worry – it happens all the time. The medical staff has seen it before, and they clean it up very fast without a word.
Though the idea of pushing is often very intimidating, the fact is some women find it a relief after a very long, first stage labor.
If you’ve consented to it, you may receive pain medications during this time. If you’ve had an epidural, you won’t feel your contractions and will need to listen to your midwife or doctor about when to push.
Eventually, your baby’s head will appear in the birth canal, a process called crowning. At this time, you may feel a burning sensation as your perineum, or area between your vagina and anus, stretches to accommodate the baby’s head. It’s possible that you may see your baby’s head appear and slip back into the birth canal – just keep on truckin’. You’ll meet your baby soon enough!
Talk to your caregiver about his or her approach to protect you from tears and episiotomy, which is no longer routinely recommended.
When your baby is finally born, the second stage of labor is complete. Your doctor or midwife will hold the baby with his head lowered to avoid getting blood and amniotic fluid in his lungs. Your caregiver will likely suction the baby’s mouth and nose with a small bulb syringe to remove additional fluid, and place the baby on your stomach. Soon after, the umbilical cord will be cut. The third and final stage of labor is the delivery of the placenta, which is usually quite straightforward (after thought/after birth) and takes place about 20-30 minutes after the baby is born.