One of the biggest anticipated events during pregnancy is the birth of your baby. So, it is no surprise that one of the biggest questions of moms-to-be is, “what should I expect during a hospital vaginal birth?”
Today we are talking all about hospital vaginal births and what to expect from the minute you check in to Labor and Delivery to the time you are discharged from the hospital.
Before we proceed it is important to note that the labor and delivery process is a different experience for every woman. But, for the purpose of this article we will be covering the steps of a “normal vaginal delivery” process.
In addition, we will be going over some frequently asked questions about hospital vaginal births, so that you know exactly was to expect when your time comes.
One of the biggest game-changers to achieve the birth you have always envisioned is by educating yourself about the childbirth process despite of your birth setting (home, birth center, or hospital).
What to Expect During a Hospital Vaginal Birth?
When I was pregnant with my first child, wondering what to expect during a hospital vaginal birth was something I thought about all the time.
In fact, even with our second baby, wondering what our birth experience with her would be like, was something we also talked about all the time.
Labor and delivery is such a unique experience for every mom and baby.
While some labor stories go according to plan, some others are a complete surprise.
Though every birth is different, it helps to know what to expect when it’s time to check into the hospital, during the labor and delivery process and after the baby is born.
So, here is everything we will be discussing today:
- Hospital Registration and Triage
- Labor and Delivery Room
- Vaginal Delivery Time!
- What to Expect Immediately After Delivery
- The Recovery Room
- After Birth and Postpartum Recovery
Disclaimer: As a nurse, I will address the following article from a medical and personal standpoint. However, please note that labor and delivery circumstances differ from women to women. This article is for informational purposes only, as it is based on personal experiences and opinions. If you have any questions or concerns about the labor and delivery process, please contact your healthcare provider.
Hospital Vaginal Birth
(What to Expect)
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Before we start, if you need help with third trimester planning and getting ready for baby, don’t miss the Third Trimester Checklist (Printable Bundle).
Hospital Registration and Triage
Whether you are coming in with contractions or for a scheduled induction, you must first make a quick stop to register at Labor and Delivery.
Hopefully, you had a previous hospital tour so that you know where to check in.
Some hospitals even offer early registration, helping you skip some of the much-dreaded paperwork.
If you have a scheduled induction, once you show up to Labor and Delivery they will likely:
- get the paperwork started
- create your hospital hand bands for you, husband, and baby
- provide you with some hospital goodies including your stylish hospital gown
If you are having contractions, your hospital registration process might look a little different.
The triage nurse will first assess you to ensure you are indeed in active labor.
They do so by placing a fetal monitor around your belly. The monitor will check the baby’s heart rate and your contractions. Depending on multiple factors (e.g. contraction frequency, intensity, and/or cervix dilatation), they will determine whether they will proceed with the admission process, or not.
As a rule of thumb, they will admit you if:
- contractions are about 5 minutes apart, and….
- 1 minute long for at least 1 hour, and…
- your cervix is dilated 3 centimeters or more
Don’t be discouraged if they send you home because labor isn’t progressing as fast as you might have hoped.
You will be back in no time!
After all, it is better to spend your early labor phase at home, where you are free to move around and be more comfortable.
Labor and Delivery Room
Get nice and comfortable in this room mama, because depending on the length of your labor, you will be spending a good amount time here.
What can I expect in the Labor and Delivery Room?
In most labor and delivery rooms you can expect to find:
- your labor and delivery bed
- the baby’s warmer bed
- an adjacent bathroom
- a TV
- a small couch that doubles as a bed
- a recliner
- a sink
- a small roller table
Once you make it to the labor and delivery room, they will once again connect you to the fetal monitors.
You labor nurse will also most likely start an IV. In most hospitals, it is hospital protocol to have IV access in all laboring moms in case they need to give you medication, fluids, or any type of emergent intervention.
This is especially true if you have a scheduled induction. It is through that IV access that they will start you on your induction medication and pain medication, if need.
How Fast will my labor be?
Although nobody can really predict how long exactly your labor will last, experts have narrowed it down to the following metrics…
If you are a first-time mom, labor usually happens between 12-24 hours, while labor with second babies or subsequent pregnancies can be shorter in length.
Some of the factors that might influence the length of your hospital vaginal birth might be:
- How easily your cervix dilates
- Strength of contractions
- Medication to speed up contractions
- Epidural or no-epidural
- How far along you are
- How active you are during labor
- Your baby’s position
- Your relaxation methods and strategies
If you have a scheduled induction, soon after they get an IV access they will start you on medication to help kick start or strengthen contractions.
Another thing to expect during this stage of labor is for your water to break or for it to be broken by your doctor/midwife.
The reason for the intentional rupture of this membrane (contains the fluid around your baby) is to help make contractions stronger and more regular.
At this point, your doctor/midwife will most likely offer you pain relieving medication.
The most popular form of analgesic medication during childbirth is an epidural.
What to Expect During an Epidural?
The pain during contractions is excruciating. Because every woman handles pain differently, considering getting an epidural as part of your birth plan might be something to consider.
Ideally, you would have prepared for labor a few weeks back by practicing some pain management techniques and ideal labor positions.
However, if you are opting for medical pain management instead, no problem.
Epidural anesthesia is the most popular method of pain relief during labor.
In fact, a recent study by Anesthesiology, found that 71% of pregnant women get epidurals or other spinal anesthesia.
An epidural is a procedure that injects a local anesthetic into the space around the spinal nerves in your lower back. (Source)
This anesthetic usually blocks the pain from labor contractions and during birth very effectively. Although, some women may still experience pain despite of the epidural.
Epidurals are usually done by an anesthetist during labor and administered when the patient is about 4 cm dilated.
If you will be receiving an epidural (no shame in that, I have had two!), then here is what to expect:
- Before you receive an epidural, you will usually have an IV fluid drip started.
- Depending on the anesthetist preference you will either be asked to sit up and bend forward over a pillow or lie on your side curled up into a ball.
- The anesthetist will clean your lower back with a cold antiseptic solution. Then, inject the area with a small amount of local anesthetic.
- A needle will be inserted between the bones of your spine. Once in place a small soft plastic tube will be inserted, and the needle will be removed. Through that little tube is where you will receive the anesthetic that will help ease the pain.
- It usually takes between 5 and 30 minutes for your pain to be relieved by the epidural.
In addition to the epidural, you will likely also get a foley catheter put in place.
As previously mentioned, sometimes the epidural isn’t as effective as you would hope.
From personal experience, the epidural with my first child was heaven sent. I was able to sleep and rest before the time came to push.
With my second child however, the epidural wasn’t as effective and I felt almost everything.
If you would like to get an epidural, but feel really anxious about the process, I urge you check out Birth it Up: Epidural Series by Liesel Teen from Mommy Labor Nurse. It is incredibly valuable and very inexpensive considering the amount of information she teaches in her Video Series.
Also, if you are interested in having a natural hospital birth , I highly recommend Kopa Birth Online Classes. They will teach you all of the tips and strategies to avoid pain medication during labor in a hospital setting and as well as guide you through the entire labor and delivery process.
Related Article: How to Prepare for Labor: The Complete Guide
What does having an epidural feel like?
Depending on how successful (or not) your epidural turns out to be you might experience different things after you receive your epidural.
In my experience, when the epidural worked properly, the lower half of my body felt numb. My legs felt a bit tingly and weak and although I felt a little bit of pressure in my lower abdomen and groin area, I did not feel “pain”.
Vaginal Delivery Time!
What to expect during vaginal delivery?
It is game time mama!
You have just entered into the second stage of labor, which lasts from when your cervix is fully dilated until the birth of your baby.
So, you finally hear the much-awaited words, “you are now 10cm dilated, it’s time to PUSH!”
You might notice your labor nurse start setting a small table with all of the labor and delivery goodies the doctor will need to assist you during labor.
At this point you might feel like you have to push. Most moms describe it as “feeling like you need to poop”.
If it is your first labor, it isn’t uncommon for you labor nurse to help you through a few “practice pushes” before the doctor walks in the room. That is because first time moms are known to push for a longer amount of time.
You can push during contractions whenever you feel the urge. However, it is not uncommon not to feel the urge to push if you had an epidural.
If that is the case, your labor nurse will instruct you when to push as she will be watching the monitor to ensure you are pushing with each contraction.
This stage of labor is one of the hardest and most rewarding part of your childbirth journey.
What to Expect Immediately After Delivery?
You did it!
Ideally, after the birth, if everything goes according to plan, the doctor or nurse will place your baby on your chest for some bonding time, as they clean and suction him/her.
What do they do to the baby after birth?
After you get a few minutes of bonding time with your baby, the labor nurse will likely move the baby to a newborn bed/warmer.
Once there, they will weight and measure your baby, take some footprints, run some routine tests, do the Vitamin K injection and/or eye ointment application (if you agreed to these interventions prior to your delivery).
They’ll also perform the APGAR score. Apgar stands for “Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration” and it is a test given to newborns soon after birth. This test checks a baby’s heart rate, muscle tone, and other signs to see if extra medical care or emergency care is needed. (Source)
It is typically performed once at 1 minute after birth, and again at 5 minutes after birth.
They will likely also give the baby his first bath.
What happens to me after labor?
Just because you just finished delivering your baby doesn’t mean you are done just yet!
While you embrace your beautiful new baby, there might be a lot of things going on around your lower area.
Once you deliver your baby, the placenta will follow. At this point you will be monitored for a few minutes to ensure there aren’t any labor and delivery complications.
In addition, you doctor will be sure to apply stitches to any internal/external tears or if you were given an episiotomy.
Using the toilet for the first time after birth is usually torture since everything down there is raw and sensitive.
Your labor nurse will provide you with a little postpartum care kit which will help you during your hospital stay. But, you can totally pack your own postpartum recovery essentials in your hospital bag.
The hospital postpartum care essentials kit might include:
- Extra large maxi pads
- Disposable mesh underwear
- Peri bottle
If you are opting to breastfeed, the best ideal time to start doing so is right after delivery.
Don’t get discouraged if the whole breastfeeding thing doesn’t happen as easily as you thought it would. Truth is, it takes practice, patience, and consistency.
Related Article: 11 Thing to Expect After Birth (+ Care Tip for Faster Healing)
★ Related Articles:
- The Ultimate Postpartum Care Kit (Natural and Non-Toxic)
- What to Wear After Giving Birth at the Hospital (Head to Toe)
- The Ultimate Hospital Bag Checklist for Baby, Mom, and Dad
The Recovery Room
Once your doctor gives you the green light to leave the labor and delivery room, you will be transferred to a recovery room where you will spend an average of 2 days. How long you spend in the hospital depends on your hospital guidelines and the nature of your birth.
In the next two days, a few things take place which are crucial in order to be granted discharge.
Nurses will come in and out of the room to check your vital signs, especially blood pressure and temperature.
Your baby should be able to stay with you throughout your recovery period. That is unless he/she needs to be taken to the nursery for multiple reasons:
- … and so on
That is why it is so important to tour your hospital of choice and ask all the questions ahead of time.
In my birthing hospital for instance, my babies were bathed at my bedside in the labor and delivery room.
Once in the recovery room, our babies we not taken outside of our room. Except for the routine hearing test, which is performed in a special room, however my husband was allowed to accompany them in both instances.
While in the recovery room make it a priority to get rest when you can and try to get the hang of breastfeeding by doing it often. Take advantage of the time you are in the hospital to practice breastfeeding.
Most hospitals have great breastfeeding consultants you can request to see. They are great at giving breastfeeding tips and helping you kick start a healthy breastfeeding journey.
Visitors in the Recovery Room
Typically, one adult will be allowed to stay with you overnight. Most hospitals have a small couch that can turn into a small bed where dads can get some rest.
When it comes to accepting visitors, every hospital has their unique policy. Again, make sure you do your due diligence about your birthing hospital ahead of time.
Our hospital required that we made a list of the people we were expecting to show up to see that baby. We were also given the option to write the names of people we did NOT want to grant access to (thankfully we didn’t have the need to fill out that section).
Visitors at our hospital aren’t allowed passed 7pm… and honestly I loved that!
After you give birth to a child, you will need all the rest you can get! Friends and family will have all the time in the world to visit the baby afterwards.
- 3 Must-Take Online Breastfeeding Classes for New Moms
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Prior to your hospital discharge a few things must first be completed.
You and your baby have to be given the clear by your doctor and the pediatrician.
In addition, you will be asked to fill out a birth certificate application and other important legal documents.
Last, but not least, make sure your vehicle is equipped with a properly installed car seat. You will not be able to take the baby home without a properly installed car seat (Yeah, Dad!).
What to Expect After Giving Birth?
Once you make it home is where it all really begins.
Your body will start to recover slowly, but it is important to be gracious and patient with yourself.
Your body (mentally and physically) just went through once of the biggest changes in a woman’s life.
Here are great articles that can help you through your postpartum recovery:
- 11 Things to Expect After Giving Birth + Tips to Heal Faster
- 13 Postpartum Tips and Instructions to Heal Faster After Vaginal Delivery
- 13+ Postpartum Body Changes (+ Care Tips & FAQ’s)
- 15 Important Things To Do Before Baby Comes
Home with a Newborn
The first few days home with a newborn are ROUGH!
Lack of sleep is an under statement. Enlist the help of your partner, family, and friends if possible to make the transition smoother.
Postpartum depressions and emotional changes are also common. It is extremely important to be vocal about what you are feeling and call your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.
Related Article: How to Survive the Newborn Stage (A New Mom’s Guide)
If you would like a step-by step guide about the Preparing for Labor, Labor and Delivery, and Postpartum process, that you can:
- take from the comfort of your own home
- pause and rewind as needed
- get one on one support with any question you have
- have your partner learn long alongside you at his own time
… then here are my top TWO favorite resources:
1. Kopa Prepared Natural Birthing Classes
Kopa Prepared Natural Birthing Classes is an amazing resource for woman who are looking to have a natural hospital birth.
Whether you will be a first time mom or are giving birth again but looking for a different and more natural birthing experience, these classes are exactly what you need.
The curriculum covers everything you need to know for a successful natural hospital birth, including coping techniques, positions of comfort for labor, hospital interventions, and much more.
2. Birth it Up
The Birth it Up Series created by Mommy Labor Nurse (Liesel Teen) is a set of courses that cater to all different types of birth preferences. Depending on which Course Series you choose (Natural Birth Series or Epidural Series), Liesel walks through the entire process through video lessons.
It is perfect for all types of moms as it teaches all types of birth plans. Whether you want a natural birth, are set on an epidural, or are having a scheduled c-section one of these series will meet your needs.
Use Promo Code: LOVELYMOMHOOD and get a 10% OFF at check out!
★ Related Articles:
- 5 Best Online Childbirth Classes (Home or Hospital Birth)
- How to Prepare for Labor (Mentally, Physically, Resources)
- 13+ Permanent and Temporary Postpartum Body Changes (+ Care Tips)
- 11 Things to Expect After Birth (& Tips to Heal Faster)
- 3 Must-Take Online Breastfeeding Classes for New Moms
- Best Pregnancy Products and Resources Master List
All birth stories are different. But knowing what to expect during a vaginal hospital birth can help you be prepared when your time comes.
Preparing for birth is a great thing, but also remember… getting the baby out safely and keeping mama happy and healthy by whatever means necessary is the goal!
So, learn as much as you can, go with the flow, and a have a happy and healthy delivery mama!
If you are pregnant for first time, what are you expecting your vaginal hospital birth to be like?
If you already gave birth, what is the one thing you can tells moms-to-be to expect during a hospital vaginal birth?
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