A pregnant woman prepares to have a natural birth.

What to know about vaginal childbirth

When it’s time for your baby to leave the womb and greet the world, you have two options: a vaginal delivery or a C-section. So, why choose to deliver vaginally instead of getting a C-section, and what can you expect?

What to expect during childbirth

Some people call vaginal childbirth a “normal delivery,” although C-sections are so common that the term “normal” could accurately describe them, too.

If you are going to give birth vaginally, you will experience all three stages of labor and delivery. It starts with contractions that last 30-60 seconds each with anywhere from five to 20 minutes in between.

As you go from early labor to active labor, the contractions will occur closer together and will feel more intense. Your water could break at any time and is a sure sign that you should get to the hospital or wherever you plan to deliver your baby, if you haven’t already done so.

Labor for a first-time mother can take 12-24 hours from the first contractions to the delivery of the baby, followed by the placenta. For mothers who have given birth before, the average labor time is 8-10 hours.

In the delivery room

When you’re in the delivery room, especially if you are delivering at a hospital, there can be a lot of people around.

“Being in a delivery room for a vaginal delivery can seem a little chaotic,” said Robyn Lindenmeyer, director of Women’s and Children’s Health at OSF HealthCare. “There can be a lot of people in the room, but everyone has an important role in the delivery.”

There will be an anesthesiologist if you want an epidural for the pain, a patient care tech or surgical tech, a nurse to care just for you, a nurse to care just for the baby, perhaps a team from Neonatal Intensive Care as a precaution, the person delivering your baby and any support people you choose. There may even be more nurses, if more helpful hands are needed.

Your nurse is your advocate. If there’s anything your nurse can do to assist and reduce stress during labor, let them know. It’s common to worry about telling a relative or friend that you would prefer not to have them in the room during your labor. Your nurse can talk to the person for you, handling the situation with tact so you don’t have to worry and can concentrate on the delivery.


An episiotomy is when your provider cuts some of the skin between the vagina and anus to create a larger opening for the baby to travel through.

This will be sewn up immediately after birth. And while it may seem like a painful place to have stitches for a while, an episiotomy incision heals more quickly and less painfully than a vaginal tear.

Recovering from delivery

After delivering your baby, you may be able to go home later that same day or have the option of staying for one or two nights.

If you get a C-section, you will have restrictions on activities for several weeks afterward because you have an incision that went through your abdominal muscles.

A vaginal delivery with no complications is usually the easiest recovery, on the other hand. But if you get an episiotomy or have any tearing, you may have some restrictions while you heal.

Why natural birth?

A natural birth is a vaginal delivery free from any medications.

One thing that is pretty much universally agreed upon is that childbirth hurts. So, why do some women prefer to deliver without any pain medications? Is it safe? Is it for you?

There is a rewarding psychological aspect to natural childbirth. By treating labor and delivery as natural events the body is made to handle, many moms-to-be feel empowered. Women who delivered naturally have reported feeling both more in touch with their body and their baby, while also feeling like they had more control over the whole process.

For a low-risk pregnancy, giving birth naturally is a very safe option. Epidurals and other medications carry a low risk for complications, like lowered blood pressure or nausea. They can even slow down or speed up labor, instead of your body delivering at its natural pace.

Not needing an episiotomy also reduces recovery time.

Delivering naturally treats labor pains, such as contractions, as necessary because your body is telling you it’s doing what it’s supposed to. Otherwise, the medical world tends to treat pain as something to fix.

Plus, if you don’t get an epidural, you aren’t confined to a bed while you deliver. You can get up and move around during active labor, which can help induce or speed up the process.

Natural delivery is really all about the mother and following her lead during labor and delivery.

Tips to go natural

First, find a provider – an OB/GYN, a midwife or a doula – and make a birth plan. Do you have a location picked out that can accommodate your needs and wishes? Can your provider accommodate them, too?

Births do not always go according to plan, so it’s wise to have an expert on hand to guide you through delivery and respond to any crises.

You’ll also want to learn natural pain management methods – breathing techniques, position changes, aromatherapy, music, movement, a warm bath and more. Find what helps you relax and focus, so you can decrease your discomfort.

People respond positively to some methods, but not others, so it’s a good idea to try some out and find what works for you before you go into labor.

And if you find during labor that the pain is maybe more than you can handle, have no fear, you can get an epidural at almost any time throughout labor.

Be sure to speak with your provider about your birth preferences as you prepare your birth plan.

Last Updated: March 16, 2023

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About Author: Ken Harris

Ken Harris is the proudest father and was a writing coordinator for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare.

He has a bachelor's in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked as a daily newspaper reporter for four years before leaving the field and eventually finding his way to OSF HealthCare.

In his free time, Ken likes reading, fly fishing, hanging out with his dog and generally pestering his lovely, patient wife.

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Categories: Birth & Maternity